Remembering and reconciliation were key themes repeated at Prince Rupert Middle School and Charles Hays Secondary School on Sept. 28 and 29.
The two schools held separate Orange Day ceremonies — PRMS on Sept. 28 and CHSS on Sept. 29 — to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and the effect the schools had on multiple generations of First Nations individuals and families.
The day is officially on Saturday, Sept. 30, a time of year when young children would typically be taken from their homes and sent to residential schools. It is also the beginning of the contemporary school year, and, as such, is seen as an opportunity to set the tone for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies in schools from the moment students begin their studies. The schools held their ceremonies during the week to involve their students.
“We really wanted to bring it to the attention of students and teachers in the schools so it gives teachers in classes an opportunity to talk and discuss the whole reconciliation plan and bring that to light,” said School District 52 Aboriginal education helper, event co-organizer and teacher Tannis Calder.
More than 100 students gathered in the bleachers of PRMS where they each received orange shirts designed by CHSS student Tanaiya Pearson. Each shirt has an outer circle with different crests to represent Aboriginal peoples within Canada, and a maple leaf in the centre, which lists the variety of different nations and nationalities.
“A circle is never ending as is our work toward reconciliation,” Pearson said in a statement describing the shirts. “A circle is continuous and everyone is equal. Therefore, we are all united as one.”
James Zlatanov — also an Aboriginal education helper in the school district who co-organized the event — then explained what Orange Shirt Day is about.
“Today is the day to honour those who went to residential schools,” he said.
Zlatanov played a video of Phyllis Webstad — a residential school survivor — briefly sharing her experiences and explaining why reconciliation and the Orange Shirt Day are so important. Zlatanov then introduced Charlie Carlick, another residential school survivor, who told the students that they matter, they have an opportunity to make things right and that they have a chance to “change history.”
“It’s a more positive message to the students that you have an opportunity to think different,” Carlick said in a later interview. “Unless you think different, we can’t do anything different.”
Following the assembly, teachers led their students out to the PRMS field for a reconciliation walk around the track. Zlatanov said the ceremony is important because it instills in students the importance of reconciliation as a concept, and that is something that is important for everyone to grasp regardless of whether or not they are First Nations.
“As a non-Aboriginal person, it’s important for me to be an ally, and someone who understands and has awareness of the past and the trickle down effect of the residential schools,” he said. “It’s important for me to understand that in my own journey to reconciliation because it is the responsibility of each Canadian citizen to walk this journey toward reconciliation.”