Laurentian University once again marks September 30th as Orange Shirt Day. All community members are encouraged to wear orange as a symbol of awareness to commemorate the loss of life brought about by Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. The day also celebrates resilience and resurgence, as we all pay tribute to the survivors and their descendants.
Why orange? It all started with Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor of the Secwepemc Nation. In 1973, when she was six, her grandmother bought her a beautiful orange shirt for the first day of school. When Phyllis arrived at school, everything was stripped away from her, including the shirt. More than 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend Residential Schools before the last one closed in 1996. It’s estimated that there are 80 000 survivors.. The effects of this cultural genocide continues to be felt today. Even children who never attended the schools have been affected through intergenerational trauma. Acknowledging these horrors is instrumental in the healing journeys of many.
Our orange shirts are designed by Atikameksheng Anishinawbek artist Emma Petahtegoose. It was important to us that the designer of the orange shirt had a connection to the place where our institution is situated. Also, given that this shirt is a symbol of reconciliation and hope, it was critical that the shirt be designed by a youth. We give thanks for Emma’s beautiful design, her beautiful work. A limited quantity of these shirts will be on sale at the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre. They are $20, and all proceeds go to Indigenous student bursaries and scholarships here at Laurentian.This will be our third Orange Shirt Day with Emma’s design.
Laurentian is the site of a key event in Canada’s attempts to reconcile with Indigenous nations. In 1986, the United Church of Canada apologized for its role in the Residential School system, the first church to do so. A cairn marks the spot where survivors and advocates from across our nation gathered in 1986 to mark the apology. It is also where Art Solomon fasted and challenged the church to “get real or get lost”, just down the hill from the Parker Building. Our institution continues to strive for reconciliation through our tricultural mandate, as well as in providing bursaries for Indigenous students. We also do it by marking this day to acknowledge our awareness of the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools; it is our responsibility to move forward together. .