May 25, 2022

Ryan B Chan

This was the first year that Canada recognized the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation which now takes place annually on Sept 30. The day is to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. 

The event also coincides with Orange shirt day which is a symbolic day to represent the culture that was taken from Indigenous peoples. The story behind Orange shirt day is tragic but important to understand as it highlights why there is a National day of Truth and Reconciliation. 

Phyllis Webstad is an Indigenous person from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation and a residential school survivor. In 1973 Webstad’s grandmother bought her a new orange shirt for her first day of residential school. She wore this orange shirt proudly to her first day, but when she was there it was immediately stripped off her back. She was six. 

Two women showing their support for Orange Shirt Day at Alder Street Recreation Center in Orangeville, Ontario. The photo was taken Sept 30, 2021

Webstad said that they had taken away her clothes including the orange shirt. They were never given back to her. The colour orange always reminded her of how her feelings didn’t feel like they mattered and that no one cared about her and made her doubt her self-worth. Just like all the other little children there, Webstad was subjected to the horrors of residential schooling she said on a website dedicated to Orange Shirt Day.

The tales from the residential schools were harrowing. Mass graves are still continuing to be found at remnants of the residential schools and survivors’ tales are just as grim. 

In the Dufferin region, there was a candle-lit vigil and a moment of silence to commemorate the event. Mayor Sandy Brown spoke at the flagpole of the Alder Street Recreation Center. 

“This day will provide a way for our community to publicly commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools and the resilience of residential school survivors,” Mayor Brown said. “Commemoration being the vital component of the reconciliation process.” 

Mayor Sandy Brown speaks to supporters at Alder Street Recreation Center in Orangeville, Ontario on Sept 30, 2021.

The community was clad in orange shirts and walked together towards the medicine wheel garden with the sunset overhead.

A Crowd walks to Medicine Wheel Garden in Orangeville, Ontario. Sept 30, 2021

Supporters were given orange ribbons to tie around trees when they felt inspired by the Indigenous spirit that was present.

At the medicine wheel garden, they gathered to hear the stories of Dufferin’s Indigenous communities’ residential school survivors. They all stood for a moment in silence afterwards. 

One member of the community recalled how her grandfather had recently opened up about his experience with residential schools. She explained how he and a few classmates had chosen to hide in a cold cabin in the woods rather than return to the residential school. 

The trees of the medicine wheel garden in the Dufferin area now have orange ribbons attached to branches so that the community can show they were there to listen and commemorate the truth of Indigenous history. 

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