iN VIDEO: Orange shirts for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation came from Williams Lake | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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iN VIDEO: Orange shirts for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation came from Williams Lake

Phyllis Webstad's story of her new orange shirt being take away from her on her first day of residential school near Williams Lake was the impetus behind Orange Shirt Day that now coincides with the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Image Credit: YouTube

As Canadians prepare to observe the country’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation they may be wondering why Sept. 30 was chosen and why they’re being encouraged to wear orange shirts.

It all comes from the actions of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation at Dog Creek, south of Williams Lake.

Webstad was living with her granny on the Dog Creek Reserve in 1973, the year she started residential school at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School just south of Williams Lake.

“When I turned six in July of 1973, granny took me to town to buy me something new to wear for my first day at residential school,” Webstad said in a recently posted YouTube video. “I choose a shiny new shirt. It was bright and exciting, just how I felt to be going to school for the first time.

“When I arrived at the Mission, my shiny new shirt was taken away. No matter how much I cried and wanted it back, no one would listen. I never wore my shirt again.”

Webstad’s granny had attended that school for 10 years, as did Webstad’s mother and her mother’s nine siblings.

While Webstad only attended the residential school for one year, she’s always carried the trauma with her.

“The memories of that orange shirt being taken away and the lack of caring by those who controlled us kept me from wearing orange for a long time in my life as the sight of orange would trigger memories of my experiences and the effects on my life from attendance at that school,” she said in the video.

READ MORE: Survivor offers advice on how to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The St. Joseph Mission Residential School operated for 90 years, from 1891 to 1981.

In 2013, Webstad was on a committee planning for the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemoration Project that coincided with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission visiting Williams Lake.

She was asked to speak that day and it was the first time she publicly told her orange shirt story.

“I told my orange shirt story for the first time in April of 2013 when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to Williams Lake,” Webstad said in the video. “Those involved with the event decided to honour the orange shirt as a symbol of residential schools and the need for Every Child Matters.”

Originally, Orange Shirt Day was centred on the Cariboo-Chilcotin area but has grown into a national event.

“We chose September because September is the time of year the children were taken away from their homes and their families.” Webstad said in the video. "We chose the 30th because we wanted teachers and students to have time to settle in, time for teachers to teach students about the history and time for us to plan an event. When I heard an elder say that September was crying month, I knew we had selected the right date.”

Today is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, established by the federal government to honour “the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities,” states a Government of Canada website.

READ MORE: How some First Nations are recognizing National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Sept. 30


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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