Schools across Manitoulin participate in Orange Shirt Day

Staff and students wearing orange in observance of Orange Shirt Day at Assiginack Public School in Manitowaning gather on the school’s back patio for a group photograph. Orange Shirt Day recognizes the effects and intergenerational impacts of the residential school system on First Nation, Métis and Inuit children in Canada. photo by Michael Erskine

MANITOULIN—Staff and students in Rainbow Schools were decked out in orange on Thursday, September 28 in a show of support for residential school survivors.

“Orange Shirt Day recognizes the effects and intergenerational impacts of the residential school system on First Nation, Métis and Inuit children in Canada,” notes a release from the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB).

“This important gesture will bring us together in the spirit of reconciliation,” said RDSB Director of Education Norm Blaseg. “It provides an opportunity for staff to open up or continue the conversation about residential schools with students.”

Participation in Orange Shirt Day “demonstrates our collective commitment to building our ongoing understanding,” he adds. “We invite everyone to wear orange and show students that every child matters.”

Many of the students, teachers and staff at Island schools were decked out in full force orange as part of the recognition. “We have had great participation from our students and staff,” said Assiginack Public School Principal Maria Bouwmeester as she marshalled her charges for a group photograph. Wiikwemkoong High School was observing Orange Shirt Day on Friday, September 29, but RDSB schools were observing Orange Shirt Day as September 29 was a professional activity day.

Wiikwemkoong students and staff gather in the school gymnasium for a group photo in recognition of Orange Shirt Day. Everyone is also wearing orange shirt buttons that read “Every Child Matters,” so even if they are not all wearing orange, they are still acknowledging Orange Shirt Day.
photo by Brandy Pitawanakwat and Kade Assiniwe

“All of our students were wearing were wearing orange shirt buttons that say ‘Every Child Matters’,” said Wiikwemkoong High School guidance counsellor Jillian Peltier. “So even if they are not all wearing orange, they are still acknowledging the day in that way.”

Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake, British Columbia as an initiative of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration project. Phyllis Webstad, a young girl from the Dog Creek First Nation, attended the Mission in 1973, where her clothes were removed, including the brand new orange shirt of which she was so proud. 

Phyllis’ story inspired the St. Joseph Mission to declare September 30 Orange Shirt Day, as this was the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to attend residential schools.