The Orange Shirt Day march in Prince Rupert drew hundreds of students from across the city on Monday to mark the annual day recognizing the impact the residential school system had on Indigenous communities in Canada.
Prince Rupert Middle School was the scene of the event, where most of the elementary schools in town gathered to take part. Students walked to the school, many of them dressed in shirts emblazoned with the words “Every Child Matters”, where they listened to speeches from community elders before embarking on a three lap walk around the track. This time was meant for reflection on the reconciliation process that lies ahead.
The first Orange Shirt Day took place in 2013, when residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad told her story of having her orange shirt taken away from her on her first day at residential school. It would be one of countless attempts made during the history of the schools to assimilate Indigenous children while wiping out their native culture.
|Marlene Clifton leads students in a traditional drumming performance. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)|
|(Alex Kurial / The Northern View)|
“Imagine all the children on this field just disappeared,” survivor and elder Charlie Carlick posited to the crowd. “That’s what happened to our community.”
“I lost my culture, I lost my language and I lost my people,” Carlick explained as to what happened to him when he was taken away to a residential school at age six. He would remain there for the next decade, only being allowed to see his family sporadically.
|Students in the crowd feel the rhythm of the drum beat. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)|
Now though, activists are seeking to turn this dark period in Canadian history into a moment of teaching and reflection. Sept. 30 was chosen as the day of recognition as it coincides with the time of year when Indigenous children were usually taken away from their parents to be sent to the schools.
“Orange Shirt Day is really important because we can look at it as a starting point for larger conversations, especially pertaining to reconciliation,” Lori Burger, the Aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation administrator for School District 52, said.
“I really want Orange Shirt Day to not just be a day,” Burger added. “To me, Orange Shirt Day would be successful if we knew that people were taking today to reflect on their own individual reconciliation journeys, and how they can move forward and take action toward further reconciliation.”
Alex Kurial | Journalist
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