Schools all over the province, observed Sept. 30 as Orange Shirt Day, despite the pandemic, to bring awareness around the residential school system and how it impacted the Indigenous communities.
September 30 is recognized as the Orange Shirt Day to acknowledge and learn about the harm that the residential school system did to the Indigenous children’s self-esteem and well being. The date is significant because it was around this time each year when Indigenous children were taken away to residential schools. Phyllis Webstad, who created the Orange Shirt Day out of her own experience of residential schools, did this to spread awareness around the day and to ensure the message of “Every Child Matters” reaches everyone.
In the Burns Lake area, schools observed the Orange Shirt Day in their own unique ways. Lakes District Secondary School, students were shown a video in class on what the Orange Shirt Day was about and later the kids had discussions with their teacher over the importance of the day. The school didn’t have any large gatherings or events around this due to the Covid restrictions but some students did come together to create a vision board for the day with messages about the importance and history of the day.
At Grassy Plains School, the students honoured the day in a very different manner. Melissa Gagnon, the Aboriginal Education Support Worker with the school, put together a presentation to explain the importance of the day and also created a poster with the students.
“We made a poster of Lejac Residential School and the kids hand-printed in orange on the poster. The reason why we chose that school is because most of the elders on the southside went through Lejac Residential School in Fraser Lake. What we did was pretty symbolic for our school because the whole school was involved with it,” said Gagnon.
The school also received a donation of around 26 orange shirts from the Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) for those students who didn’t have an orange shirt. Virginia Gagnon brought along bannocks for the whole school to sit and munch on while Gagnon gave the presentation on the day. The school then took pictures with kids in their Orange Shirts.
“It definitely was a great day,” said Gagnon.
At William Konkin Elementary (WKE), the students and staff all wore orange shirts, but they also did something very unique.
“Here at WKE we have a great tradition where we hand out paper shirts to each student and then the kids decorate those paper shirts with messages that resonate with them about the Orange Shirt Day or their understanding of the day. We then decorate our hallways with those paper shirts,” said Cordell Ware, the vice principal with the school. “We didn’t get to do a larger gathering or assembly but each class was able to honour the day.”
The College of New Caledonia (CNC) Lakes District Campus also observed the day with the staff and students wearing orange shirts.
Over at the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, the community members along with Chief Corinna Leween put on their Orange Shirts as a reminder of the racism, bullying and children returning to school.
Unlike every other year, schools and members in the community did much smaller events around the Orange Shirt Day but ensured something was in place to bring awareness around the day for the kids and future generations.