A decision to honour Orange Shirt Day at the College of the Rockies (COTR) has been made despite the pandemic.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and students’ safety being top of mind, the COTR plans to host an early virtual event in support of Orange Shirt Day at 1 p.m. mountain time on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
“College of the Rockies values our close relationships with Indigenous people in our region and is committed to true reconciliation,” said Karen Smith, Director of Indigenous Strategy and Reconciliation at COTR. “Phyllis Webstad is a symbol of the injustices experienced by Indigenous people in the residential school system. We participate in Orange Shirt Day to honour her, and all those impacted by residential schools. By sharing Ktunaxa Nation members Gina and Kay’s experiences in residential school in this year’s event, we acknowledge how this part of Canada’s history also had an impact at a very local level.”
The COTR will encourage students, employees, and the public to wear orange t-shirts on Sept. 30 to honour residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad’s story and support Canadian residential school survivors.
Webstad, a northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), was taken to a residential school at the mere age of six. Upon arriving at the mission, the school stripped Webstad of all of her personal belongings, even a brand new orange t-shirt that laced up the front recently purchased by her grandmother. She began to believe that the colour orange represented her feelings of oppression during that chapter of her life and worked with others to help commemorate the residential school experience for all Canadians to learn from in 2013.
Historically, the church ran residential schools between the 1860s and the 1990s, where roughly 150,000 Métis, Inuit and First Nations children were forcibly removed from their families and required to speak English or French instead of traditional languages. The loss of familial culture, traditions and languages is widely believed to have harmed several generations of residential school survivors. That’s why government officials offered an official apology to residential school survivors in recent years.
The Orange Shirt Day initiative came to life through the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, B.C. in May 2013 with Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’ in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’ imc Nation families with support from the Cariboo Regional District, elected official in various municipalities, school districts and civic organizations.
Now, Orange Shirt Day is recognized nationally to honour Indigenous children who lived through the residential experience.
“As we move toward reconciliation, it is valuable for people to gain a real understanding of the residential school system and how that system impacted the lives of Indigenous people,” said Karen Smith, Director of Indigenous Strategy & Reconciliation at COTR. “We’re pleased to welcome anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper insight into this period of our history.”
To learn more about COTR’s event, please visit: https://cotr.bc.ca/events/events/orange-shirt-day.php or join the Zoom meeting at 1 p.m. mountain time on Sept. 22 at https://ca01web.zoom.us/j/62862957328
Breanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer