Photo Phyllis Webstad, who wore the original orange shirt, speaks at a public event to remember all the children who never made it home from residential school.

West Coast youth honour Orange Shirt Day

Assembly set for Fri. Sept. 29, National Orange Shirt Day is Sept. 30

Students and staff at Ucluelet Secondary School will wear orange clothing this coming Friday, Sept. 29 to remember all the First Nations children who attended residential schools.

Over 130 residential schools were located across Canada, according the to Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were taken from their homes and forced to go to residential school.

Aboriginal education support teacher Sarah Hagar and Nuu-chah-nulth education worker Jason Sam will host an assembly first thing Friday morning, with help from the Social Studies Grade 9 class.

“Every year, people practice Pink Shirt Day and anti-bullying education, but we haven’t really seen schools participating in Orange Shirt Day,” said Hagar, who was hired this past summer by SD70 to provide support to all three schools on the Coast. “We wanted to participate because communities need to see the schools recognizing. Residential schools are an important issue. It’s part of our learning together and it’s part of having our First Nations learners see themselves in what we do in the school.”

Last week, Hagar and Sam introduced the Social Studies Grade 9 class to Orange Shirt Day and the subject of residential schools with a video about Phyllis Webstad from Dog Creek First Nation, who wore the original orange shirt.

“When I had just turned six, I was sent to the St. Joseph Indian Residential School near Williams Lake; a place we called ‘The Mission’, ” recalls Webstad in the video.

“My granny bought me a shiny new orange shirt to go to school in. When I got there I was stripped, my clothing taken away, including my new orange shirt, and I never saw it again.”

“I was no longer excited to be going to school. I wanted to go home to granny. I had to stay there for 300 sleeps. No matter how much all us little kids cried, no one listened to us. It didn’t matter. Our feelings didn’t matter, we didn’t matter.”

The Orange Shirt Day movement began in 2013 to honour and remember residential school survivors and their families.

Over the next semester, Hagar and Sam will share Canada’s history of residential schools with the Grade 9 class.

“Everybody needs to learn about this together. Learning about it collectively is really important,” said Hagar. “The trauma happened within the education system, so the education system is responsible for a big part of the healing.”

“The truth is the important piece that we have to have before we can move forward and have reconciliation. And asking local people what is important to them in the process of reconciliation and what is their truth, in a respectful way. And, not having the expectation that everyone is going to want to tell their story…And, recognizing the tenderness with which we have to treat all these stories,” she added.

To commemorate Orange Shirt Day, Hagar and Sam had orange T-shirts made for all the staff that feature the Nuu-chah-nulth word ‘hisukinhasah,’ which translates to, ‘Everyone is valuable, precious.’

“Everyone is precious was a traditional teaching that was taken from people with residential school because their preciousness was forgotten and those children never got that message because they weren’t in their homes with their families and communities,” said Hagar.

Sept. 30 was picked as National Orange Shirt Day because that was the day children were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools.

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