In the wake of COVID-19, Haisla Nation held more physically distant activities to honour Orange Shirt Day this Wednesday (Sept. 30).
Orange Shirt Day is a day to commemorate the experiences faced by those placed in residential schools, to witness and honour the healing journeys of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.
Since 2013, the day has been taking place on Sept. 30 annually, as a way to open the door to global conversation on all aspects of residential schools. It was brought about as a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, B.C. in May 2013.
It came about when a spokesperson for the Reunion group, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, told her story of her first day at the residential school, when, at six-years-old, her new, orange shirt, bought for her by her grandmother for her new school, was taken away from her and never returned.
Cameron Orr, Communications Coordinator for Haisla Nation Council, said that, usually, there’s a formal event held to honour the day and the residents and survivors of residential schools. However, this year, in trying to keep things more physically distant, Haisla Nation Council encouraged each department to take some time to do a walk among their own small group wearing their orange shirts.
The community was also encouraged to do the same, within their own social circle.
Haisla Nation offices were closed on the Wednesday to commemorate the day, but Orr said many departments made sure to get out for walks in the orange shirts first thing on Thursday (Oct. 1).
Haisla Nation Chief Councillor, Crystal Smith, said that just because large gatherings couldn’t occur, didn’t mean the day couldn’t be honoured through reflection and open discussion.
“Even though it’s unfortunate that the pandemic means we can’t gather in our usual way, we don’t need to be in large groups to reflect on how residential schools have hurt and impacted our families and Indigenous people everywhere,” Smith said in an statement.
“Residential schools are not distant memories, they are the recent past. We need moments like Orange Shirt Day to remind ourselves and our children that this is a history we carry with us, and that it was real life to our parents and grandparents. We have to remember those struggles to appreciate more where we are today.”
The annual Orange Shirt Day acts as an opportunity to create meaningful discussion around the effects of residential schools and the legacy they’ve left behind, which all Canadians can listen to and use to create bridges for reconciliation.
The date was chosen because it’s the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it provides an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying talks and policies for the coming school year.
On this day, Canadians are asked to listen to the stories of those who experienced residential schools and to participate in Orange Shirt Day, to help create an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities come together in the spirit of reconciliation, to work to make things better for generations to come.