- By Stephanie Wesley
Hundreds of people gathered at City Hall in Thunder Bay Ontario for the Every Child Matters “Walk for Healing” Indian Residential School Awareness Walk, Sept. 30.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said that the walk was to honour those who attended residential school, as well as their families. “This walk is to honour our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents especially those that did not return from Indian Residential Schools,” said
Achneepineskum. “These events are vital and must continue. This horrific truth of Canadian history must be told.”
Several residential school survivors were present, along with their families. First Nation leaders, municipal officials and educators joined community members to complete the walk to the former site of the St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School, which is now the current location of Pope John Paul II Elementary School.
Six First Nations children were documented to have died while attending St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School, with sixteen more children being unaccounted for. There are at least four thousand more children who died in more than 150 residential schools that were operated in Canada for 150 years. Approximately five thousand NAN children attended residential schools.
Orange Shirt Day is an annual event inspired by and named for Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. In the 1970s, six year-old Webstad was given a shiny new orange shirt by her grandmother to wear on her first day of school at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, BC. Upon arrival at school, she was stripped of her clothing including the orange shirt. She never saw it again.
In a statement, Webstad said that the colour orange always reminded her of that day and negative things. “The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” Webstad said. “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
In 2013, Webstad organized the first Orange Shirt Day in Williams Lake, reframing her experience in the system as a way to tackle racism and abuse with the slogan “every child matters” and the colour orange.In a video, Webstad said that she is overjoyed with the growing amount of people who are taking part in Orange Shirt Day each year.