The fence of Erickson Elementary School was lined with 22 orange shirts on Sept. 30 in honour of Orange Shirt Day, an annual event that is designed to commemorate the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system.
Janet Zarchukoff, the school’s Aboriginal youth worker, said that the school has been participating in the event for years now, but wanted to decorate the fence this year to raise awareness in the community.
“The history of residential schools had not been taught for several years. The truth is out, but the reconciliation part is still ongoing,” said Zarchukoff.
She added that she and all teachers have spent the week educating students on residential schools. Each of the elementary school’s nine classes created three or four shirts to display on the fence.
At the beginning of the day, grade 7 students led a Zoom assembly for the whole school, where they read the children’s primary school version of Phyllis’s Orange Shirt.
The inspiration for Orange Shirt Day came from Phyllis Jack Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder in Williams Lake, B.C., and by her first day at residential school in 1973, when she was six.
“We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt,” Webstad said on the
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again,” she said. “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.”