Orange Shirt Day recognizes a troubling time in our history

TRU community and elders recognize the cultural genocide caused by residential schools

Last week TRU came together in solidarity to recognize those that were taken away to residential schools. Drummers and singers performed two songs to open the event. (Justin Moore/The Omega)

Crowds of orange gathered under the falling autumn leaves in front of the Campus Activity Centre on Sept. 27 in solidarity for Orange Shirt Day.

By the request of Paul Michel, the executive director of TRU Aboriginal Affairs, students, faculty, staff and community members formed a circle on the walkway before speakers took to the podium to talk about the importance and significance of Orange Shirt Day.

The event opened with a ceremonial honour song, followed by a woman warrior song that echoed across campus grounds as more gathered to watch from the CAC steps.

The day symbolizes the years of prejudice and strife that Indigenous peoples like Phyllis Webstad, the creator of Orange Shirt Day and her family faced growing up in residential schools.

Upon being sent away to a residential school in her youth, Webstad had a brand new orange shirt taken from her. That story told years later by Webstad sparked the idea for this day, now globally recognized on Sept. 30 annually.

The slogan “Every Child Matters” marked on many of the orange shirts references the age that many Indigenous people were taken away from their families and forcefully placed in residential schools.

“For the first time in four generations, members of my family are growing up under the same roof with their mother and father. That gives me hope for the future,” Webstad said emotionally to those in the audience.

After Webstad’s talk, the drummers once again sounded off for the TRU community, as those in the circle joined hands in a circle dance, occasionally rushing the drummers in unison before retreating back into a circle. Those that led the dance smiled boldly and those that followed beamed just as much as they joined along.

On Friday, Sept. 28, Webstad travelled back to Williams Lake, B.C. to be with her mother and grandmother, who was turning 100 years old. Webstad expressed many times during her talk that she was thankful and blessed for her family and even went as far as to say that the Orange Shirt Day journey was divinely guided.