Students throughout Prince George wore orange shirts today (Sept. 30) to remember the legacy of residential schools in Canada.
Orange Shirt Day began when Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told the story of her first day at St. Joseph’s residential school near Williams Lake.
She was wearing a shiny new orange shirt bought by her grandmother, but when she arrived at the school two-hours away from her home on Dog Creek Reserve, it was taken away from her.
“Phyllis has started Orange Shirt Day to help us all be a part of acknowledging and understanding what happened at residential schools and or us to make a better and brighter future for each and every one of us,” said Nusdeh Yoh Principal Liza Arnold during the assembly.
Musician and Aboriginal Education worker Godwin Barton shared his experience with the students, telling the story of how he was forced to go to residential school at six-years-old.
“That was the longest, most loneliest, saddening trip of my young life. I will never forget that experience,” said Godwin of the long bus trip away from home.
“We were lonely. We were thousands of miles away from our families and that hurt. There’s nothing you can do when a child is taken away from their family to console a child’s broken heart especially when you are taken to a land hundreds of miles away.”
Godwin said even though his experience in residential schools in the early ‘70s was traumatic, lonely and isolating, it was a cakewalk compared to the survivors that came before him.
“You could not speak about your culture. You could not speak about your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your grandmother,” said Godwin. “You could not talk about the strength of family. You were separated, you were isolated, you were basically broken.”
The last residential school in Canada – Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan — closed in 1996.
Godwin’s speech was followed with traditional drumming and singing from the students.
“We have several staff that have had similar experience and stories as Godwin, so with Orange Shirt Day, our job - everybody’s job is to do everything we can to make sure everyone feels good about themselves, has opportunities do and be everything they want to be,” added Arnold.
“That is what Orange Shirt Day is all about, understanding and learning the truth about residential schools and to work towards reconciliation so making a better future for all children.”
The assembly concluded outside with a drumming circle and a moment of silence.
Orange Shirt Day was also recognized at the University of Northern British Columbia, College of New Caledonia and throughout the district with each school participating in its own way.