Orange Shirt Day this year falls on Sunday Sept. 30, and communities across B.C. are taking part in the annual day, to come together in the spirit of reconciliation.
Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake in 2013, and was so-called because it grew from local woman Phyllis Jack Webstad’s story of being stripped of her prized orange shirt on the first day of school at St Joseph Mission residential school, when she was six years old in 1973.
Now, Orange Shirt Day is recognized across the country, and the impact of Canada’s residential school system has been incorporated into B.C.’s school curriculum. The event has become an opportunity to open an annual discussion on all aspects of residential schools, says Orangeshirtday.org.
In Quesnel, Orange Shirt Day events will run from Thursday Sept. 27 to Sunday Sept. 30.
On Sept. 27, two residential school survivors, Cyril Pierre and Joe Ginger will be in Quesnel to share their story with School District 28 employees and students at Chuck Mobley Theatre from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Forced to attend the Saint Mary’s Catholic school in Mission, B.C., Pierre and Ginger endured years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The men took part in a documentary, Our Story, created by 3 Crows Productions, which is now shown at schools throughout the province.
“These experiences [at residential school] shaped not only their personal and cultural identity but their long-term relationships with family and community,” says the 3 Crows Productions website.
SD28 district principal of aboriginal education Patty Kimpton says while the first presentation at Chuck Mobley Theatre is aimed at school district employees, students and members of the public are welcome to attend.
Kimpton says Orange Shirt Day is just one part of the aboriginal education curriculum, and is a jumping off point for local students to learn about the overall rich and varied history of First Nations groups in the area.
Pierre and Ginger will also present Our Story at three other events: on Sept. 28 from 2-4 p.m. at UNBC; Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Quesnel & District Arts and Recreation Centre lounge; and on Sept. 30 at the Quesnel Tillicum Friendship Centre.
On Sept. 28, everyone is welcome to attend an Orange Shirt Day walk, meeting at the memorial in LeBourdais Park (located between Shiraoi House and the ball diamond) for a moment of silence. Those in attendance will walk from LeBourdais Park down Barlow Avenue to Front Street, turning left and continuing to where the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers meet. There, the group will take part in a tobacco/juniper tie offering before returning to LeBourdais Park for bannock and refreshments.
Kimpton says she expects a large group for the walk, with students attending from many schools around the city.
“We should have around 300 people,” she says.
And an event on Sept. 30 at the Friendship Centre will honour the survivors and acknowledge the legacy of residential schools.
Kimpton says this event is mainly aimed at First Nations and Métis communities as a healing gathering, but members of the public are welcome.
The event will run from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature the final presentation of Our Story in Quesnel.
Kimpton says there are many locals who attended residential school, most being taken to the nearest school – St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake.
“St. Joseph’s closed in 1981. It’s surprising for people to hear that it was so recent,” says Kimpton.
St. Joseph’s Mission opened in 1890. A monument was erected at the site of the school in 2013.
Kimpton went to high school in Quesnel and recently attended her high school reunion.
“I looked around and thought, ‘There’s a whole group of people who are not here, because they weren’t allowed to be,’” she comments.