Remembering the Past and Committing to Reconciliation on Orange Shirt Day

A wave of orange made its way through the hallways of Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School last Friday, as it did in many Grand Erie schools. Students and staff were clad in orange shirts, many declaring the message ‘Every Child Matters.’ Additionally, staff members were handing out orange arm bands to anyone who didn’t have the distinctive orange T-shirt, and students added them prominently to their hats, bags, ball caps, and football jerseys.

It’s a small gesture, but a meaningful one with huge significance.

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School commemoration event in British Columbia in 2013. It grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s story of having her brand new orange shirt taken from her on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually, and throughout the year. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools, and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come. Grand Erie took part in Orange Shirt Day on September 29. 

In classrooms across Grand Erie, lesson plans ensure we don’t forget the past, and honour survivors through awareness-raising activities. But the work is just beginning.

“Many Canadians still don’t know a lot about the residential school system and what it did to families, so Orange Shirt Day is a place to start,” said Joseph Tice, teacher at Pauline Johnson and member of Grand Erie’s Indigenous Education team. “It gives people a chance to ask questions and engage in conversation.”

Caption: Staff and students at Pauline Johnson C&VS declare "Every Child Matters"

Tracy Levett is also a teacher at Pauline Johnson, and a member of the school’s Truth and Reconciliation committee.

“I felt the need to do something after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released the 94 Calls to Action,” Levett says. “In our school community, we hold events throughout the year to raise awareness, and this week, we’ve been including announcements of facts each day that highlight why Orange Shirt Day is so important.”

For students in Grand Erie, it’s an opportunity to create a hopeful future.

“The residential school system tried to ‘take the savage out of the child,’ and strip them of their language and culture, and who they were,” says Thomas Cornelius, Grade 10 student at Pauline Johnson, and member of Oneida Nation of the Thames community. “It’s just not right that this happened, and people need to know that.”

Grade 9 student Jade Jia is new to the Brantford area, and feels we’re in a unique location to learn from the past.

“It’s important to remember history to ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes,” she says. “Orange Shirt Day is a chance to say, ‘we’re on your side, and we support you.’”


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