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TDSB Marks Orange Shirt Day

Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Categories: Happenings @ TDSB

On Friday September 29, students and staff across the TDSB will come together and wear Orange Shirts to recognize the harm that the Residential School System did to First Nations, Métis and Inuit children and to recognize that every child matters.

"Orange Shirt Day is a movement that officially began in 2013 but in reality it began in 1973 when six year old Phyllis Webstad entered the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, outside of Williams Lake, BC. The date, September 30, was chosen because that was the time of the year the trucks and buses would enter the communities to “collect” the children and deliver them to their harsh new reality of cultural assimilation, mental, sexual and physical abuse, shame and deprivation. The impact of residential schools affects every Canadian."

(Bob Joseph, Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples, 2015)

Honouring this day shows our commitment of Reconciliation. In First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities today, youth, parents and co-workers have either attended a Residential School or are inter-generationally affected by this attempt at cultural genocide.This is an opportunity for educators to enrich teaching in learning environments by engaging in critical conversations and to share why and how Orange Shirt Day came about.

See Phyllis Webstad's story below (originally published in Native News Online) and learn more online

September 30 is Orange Shirt Day: A Day of Remembrance of Residential Schools

Phyllis Webstad’s grandmother took her to buy a new outfit for her first day of school. Even though she was only six years old, her grandmother allowed Phyllis to pick out a shirt to wear to school. Part of the outfit, she selected was an orange shirt. Excited about attending school, she wore the orange shirt with pride.

She was to wear the orange shirt only one day at residential  school – the first day. She never saw her orange shirt again. It was taken by school officials. She was given a uniform to wear.

“The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt I was worth nothing,” reflects Webstad decades later about her experiences at the Indian residential school.  “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Phyllis, along with others First Nations children who attended residential schools, were stripped of their own clothing and made to wear uniforms furnished to them.

The military-like Indian residential schools were to First Nations Native students what Indian boarding schools were to American Indian students in the United States.

Removing Native children from their families and putting them in government- and sometime religion-run residential – or boarding schools – in the guise of “killing the Indian, saving the man” was federal policy both in Canada and the United States that continued for close to a century.

Most of the Native children were not allowed to see their parents or families for months – and some even years. The intention was to strip Native children of their “Indianness.” 

It is a dark chapter among Native people. So much so, one elder in Canada refers to September as “crying month” because of the history associated with September being the month children were removed from their homes.

“I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!” Webstad told Native News.

September 30th has been declared Orange Shirt Day annually in Canada, in recognition of the harm the residential school system did to children’s sense of self-esteem and wellbeing, and as a reminder of the pain it represented to our ancestors that lingers even to today.

For more information visit www.tdsb.on.ca/aboriginaleducation.

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