Orange Shirt Day: The legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981)

Orange Shirt Day is an annual awareness day created in recognition of the harm that the residential schools have caused to children's sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and well-being during 1891-1981.This event helps spread awareness and to educate Canadians about the experiences that these children had in residential schools, and honors survivors and their families' healing journey.
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September 30th is Orange Shirt Day and, since 2021, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This date symbolizes the time of the year when thousands of children as young a six were forced to leave their homes and attend residential school. To learn more about this day and the legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events and answer the question “What is orange shirt day?”, read on.

What is Orange Shirt Day?

Orange Shirt Day is an annual awareness day created in recognition of the harm that residential schools caused, and continue to cause, to Indigenous communities. These ‘schools’ reduced childrens’ sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and well-being from the 1870s-1990s and we’re still continuing to learn about the horrors of what happened there.

Orange Shirt Day helps to spread awareness and to educate Canadians about the experiences that these children had. It also serves to honour survivors and their families’ healing journey.

Orange Shirt Day is celebrated today as part of a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion. As part of this reunion, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a young survivor of the school shared how the colour orange was associated with her experiences and feelings while attending St. Joseph Mission.

Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story in her own words…

Originally from orangeshirtday.org

I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve.

We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine!

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. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.

I was 13.8 years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born. Because my grandmother and mother both attended residential school for 10 years each, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like. With the help of my aunt, Agness Jack, I was able to raise my son and have him know me as his mother.

I went to a treatment centre for healing when I was 27 and have been on this healing journey since then. I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years.

Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!

I am honoured to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories

Today…

Phyllis Webstad is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She comes from mixed Secwepemc and Irish/French heritage, was born in Dog Creek, and lives in Williams Lake, BC.

Today, Phyllis is married, has one son, a stepson and five grandchildren.  She is the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society, and tours the country telling her story and raising awareness about the impacts of the residential school system.  She has now published two books, the “Orange Shirt Story” and “Phyllis’s  Orange Shirt” for younger children.

She earned diplomas in Business Administration from the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and in Accounting from Thompson Rivers University. Phyllis received the 2017 TRU Distinguished Alumni Award for her unprecedented impact on local, provincial, national and international communities through the sharing of her orange shirt story.

How can you celebrate Orange Shirt Day?

 ECO Canada proudly supports and celebrates Orange Shirt Day, and we encourage you to join us and support this great cause.

  • Visit the official Orange Shirt Day website to learn more about this great event. To show your support you can also visit their online store to purchase orange t-shirts, buttons and pins
  • Contact Boys and Girls Club of Calgary a proud supporter and organizer of various events for Orange Shirt Day. You can buy orange shirts here (especially in youth sizes)
  • Learn more about Indigenous relations with our free webinars
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