Sept. 23, 2020

Why we wear orange on Sept. 30

A day of programming for Orange Shirt Day sheds light on history of residential school system

In 1973, six-year-old Phyllis Webstad of the Dog Creek reserve near Williams Lake, B.C., set out for her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in a brand-new orange shirt her grandmother bought for her. When she arrived, she was stripped of her clothes, and never got her favourite shirt back.

The color 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,” she recounts. Webstad’s story and her mission to raise awareness about the residential school experience is what prompted the first Orange Shirt Day in 2013.

Each year since Orange Shirt Day’s launch, organizations and institutions across Canada have been encouraged to use Sept. 30 as an opportunity to shed light on the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the process of reconciliation.

On Sept. 30, the University of Calgary, in partnership with the Calgary Public Library, will present an afternoon and evening event to commemorate Orange Shirt Day. In the afternoon, a community panel on the intergenerational impact of residential schools will feature UCalgary’s Elder in Residence, Dr. Reg Crowshoe, alongside Elder Jackie Bromley and her daughter Buffy Bromley-Grier. In the evening, there will be a free virtual screening of Indian Horse, the feature film adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s award-winning novel.

Jackie Bromley

Kainai Elder Jackie Bromley and her daughter Buffy will speak at the afternoon community panel for Orange Shirt Day.

Courtesy Jackie Bromley

Elder Jackie Bromley’s story

Jackie Bromley’s story echoes Phyllis Webstad’s in many ways. An Elder from the Blood Reserve south of Calgary, Bromley remembers being taken to a residential school for four years at a very young age. During that time, she says, “There was no trust. There was no respect. There was no love. And there was no wisdom being taught by the nuns and the priests.”

Bromley was punished for speaking Blackfoot and witnessed a great deal of abuse while attending the school. From there, she was part of the Sixties Scoop — relocated to live with a non-Indigenous family.

“After I left residential school, I was still more or less under the government,” she says. “I was placed with non-natives, and was given the same treatment that a lot of us got when we went through residential school.”

The trauma associated with schools and educational institutions has created barriers to Indigenous Peoples to this day. “When I left residential school, I didn't want to ever go back to school,” says Bromley. “There are a few of my friends today that didn't want to go to university, because of all the treatment that we went through in residential school.”

“As a post-secondary institution, we must acknowledge the part that education has historically played in the oppression and erasure of Indigenous culture,” says Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement), and moderator of the panel on Sept. 30.

In order to move forward with integrity and healing, we must work to make room for Indigenous people to learn and grow in a system that has failed them.

Today, Bromley attributes her path to healing to her connection with culture. “I got very involved in our traditional ways, did all the smudging and went to bundle openings. Everything that I can came across, I went to.” From there, she started working for Awo Taan Healing Lodge, where she helps many people who experience intergenerational trauma stemming from the residential school experience.

Hear more from Jackie Bromley, her daughter, Buffy Bromley-Grier, and Dr. Reg Crowshoe on Sept. 30, 12 to 1:30 p.m. Register for this event.

An impactful evening screening

The evening program of Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to learn about the history of residential schools in Canada through the story of eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse, who is torn from his Ojibway family and committed to residential school in the 1950s. Based on the best-selling novel by acclaimed Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse is a feature film that speaks to the hardship, healing and hope of survivors.

The screening will feature a short tribute to the late Richard Wagamese by Jared Tailfeathers, the Indigenous Placemaking Coordinator at the Calgary Public Library, an opening blessing from Elder Kelly Good Eagle, opening remarks from Michael Hart and grounding remarks from Elder Kerrie Moore, Writing Symbols Lodge’s integrative healing therapist.

Register for the evening event here.

Audiences are encouraged to show their support of Orange Shirt Day by using #orangeshirtday and #everychildmatters on social media, learning about its origins and residential schools, and honour survivors by wearing orange.

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary is moving towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.

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