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Orange Shirt Day in Maple Ridge

SD42 students donned orange to remember the harm done to First Nations families by residential schools

Students at Eric Langton elementary donned bright orange on Monday to mark Orange Shirt Day in recognition of the harm that was done to First Nations children in Canada by residential schools.

In recognition of the day, students and their families were treated to a bannock breakfast with sausages, apples, and juice.

Last week, students learned about Phyllis Webstad, whose personal story inspired this day of awareness.

Webstad’s grandmother bought her a bright new orange shirt to attend her first day of school at a residential school when she was six-years-old.

“We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school,” Webstad explained.

But when she got to school she was stripped of her clothing.

“The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared, and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared,” she said.

RELATED: Orange Shirt Day sheds light on dark history of Canada’s residential schools

Webstad was only 13 years old when she gave birth to her son and because her grandmother and mother both attended residential school, she said she never knew what a parent was supposed to be like. Her aunt stepped in to help her raise her child.

Webstad went for treatment when she was 27 and, she says, she has been on a “healing journey” ever since, earning her diplomas in business administration from the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology; and in accounting from Thompson Rivers University.

She also received the 2017 TRU distinguished alumni award for her unprecedented impact on local, provincial, national, and international communities through the sharing of her orange shirt story.

After hearing her story, students at Eric Langton were given small orange, paper shirts on which they could draw a picture of something they would have liked to bring to residential school. They could also write a quote about the reason why they matter, or residential school children matter, or a personal message to residential school survivors.

On one shirt a student wrote, “I matter because every child matters.”

Another said, “We remember residential school survivors across Canada because they went through a lot of hard times in residential school.”

And yet another wrote, “We remember residential school survivors to never let history repeat itself.”

“In order for people to heal, we need to understand Canada’s history, our unspoken history,” said Katrina Haintz, aboriginal support worker at Eric Langton elementary.

“So, by us helping the kids understand what the First Nations people have gone through in the past, it’s going to help with the truth and reconciliation,” said Haintz, adding that it is really a day about anti-bullying and anti-racism for all, but it’s a day that First Nations can use as a day for them.

“It’s important to keep that person’s spirit up and know that her dream is still alive to wear orange,” said Grade 4 student Aylin Mohammadi.

Frankie McLean, Grade 6, said that Orange Shirt Day was important to her because all children matter, no matter what race or religion they are, and if Phyllis wanted to wear an orange shirt they should have let her.

Trydian Taylor, Grade 5, said it was important to him to recognize the day because residential school children used to be abused very badly.

“Residential schools weren’t very good because kids weren’t allowed to go back to their homes for a long time,” he explained.

“It’s important to me because I am First Nations, and if the residential schools were still going I would be in residential school right now,” said Kirin Bullock, Grade 5.

Haintz was touched by the students’ efforts. She said that even the students in Grade 2 were writing deep and heartfelt statements on their paper orange shirts.

“I mean, I almost cried reading some of them,” she said.

Students across the local school district took part by wearing orange and hosting their own events.

Orange Shirt Day was started in 2013 in Williams Lake, now home to the non-profit Orange Shirt Society.

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Edith McDermott Elementary principal Alan Millar reads The Orange Shirt Day Story to students. (SD42)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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