SHESHEGWANING – Students at St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School in Sheshegwaning First Nation wore orange this past Wednesday in a show of support for residential school survivors.
Children and staff at the school honoured Orange Shirt Day, which is the symbolic expression honouring Anishinabek children who were forcibly taken from their homes and transported to various residential schools in Canada.
Verna Hardwick, cultural and Anishinaabemowin teacher at the local school, organized the event and included students giving historical background information to the day.
“During the past week in classes I’ve been explaining to the students what this day represents, and that every child matters, and that it supports the residential school survivors,” said Ms. Hardwick, “and the many First Nation students affected by residential schools since May 1831 to the last school that closed in 1996.
“That is seven generations of students who were separated from their parents and families and placed in residential schools,” Ms. Hardwick continues.
The federal government attempted to assimilate Indigenous children through the advent of residential schools. Orange Shirt Day acknowledges the Anishinabek children who survived the period of attendance at residential schools and honours the Anishinabek students who were not so fortunate and perished for various reasons during their respective time at those schools.
Paying homage to the Anishinabek children of the residential schools of the past has become an annual event at St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School, a release notes. The planned event gives the students the opportunity to understand and appreciate the struggles of the past generations. The inclusion of an education system today that represents the peoples of the Anishinabek Nation is built on the struggles and injustices felt by past generations.
“The children and staff at St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School strongly support Truth and Reconciliation across our nation. Reconciliation is all about respect. It’s about the establishment and maintenance of mutually respectful relationships. The children and staff at St. Joseph’s Anishinabek School offer our respect to all of those that have walked before us, all of those here with us, and all of those that will follow,” representatives stated.
As well, staff and students in Rainbow schools were invited to wear orange on Wednesday in a show of support for residential school survivors.
“This important and significant gesture will bring us together in the spirit of reconciliation,” said Rainbow District School Board director of education Norm Blaseg. “Staff are also welcome to open up or continue the conversation about residential schools with their students.”
“Participating in Orange Shirt Day demonstrates our collective commitment to building an ongoing understanding. We invite everyone to wear orange to show students that every child matters.”
Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake, British Columbia by the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration project. Phyllis Webstad, a young girl from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, attended the Mission in 1973, where her clothes were removed, including her brand new orange shirt.
Phyllis’ story inspired the Mission to declare September 30th Orange Shirt Day, as this was the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to attend residential schools.