Residential schools have created enduring trauma and intergenerational harm for many of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. The recent confirmation of unmarked burial sites related to these schools has amplified painful memories, and the impact of these tragedies will not be forgotten.
On June 3, 2021, the federal government designated September 30th as a new annual federal holiday. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault stated its objective: “to create a chance for Canadians to learn about and reflect on a dark chapter in their country’s history and to commemorate the survivors, their families and their communities, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indigenous leaders.”
Please remember to be sensitive during discussions, particularly in areas where there may be some personal or cultural history related to this issue.
Phyllis (Jack) Webstad was six years old when she was taken away from her family, community, and culture and relocated in a residential school far from her home. On her first day in this school, the new orange shirt that her grandmother had given her was taken away.
In 2013, the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion project took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada. The events were designed to “commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation” (Source: orangeshirtday.org). As spokesperson for the Reunion group, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story, and the orange shirt became a symbol of commemoration. Between 2013 and 2021, September 30th was observed as “Orange Shirt Day.”
Share the introduction and the “Phyllis Webstad Orange Shirt Day Presentation” available on YouTube.
After viewing, create a talking circle (more info is available at First Nations Pedagogy.) and ask:
Remind students that it is important to take the time to understand the feelings of others. Repairing a relationship requires honesty, understanding, and effort. It also involves a change of the behaviour that caused the situation – learning from our past experience. This is why it is important for all Canadians to learn about the history of the residential schools.
Close by asking students to share thoughts on how participating in National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by wearing an orange shirt is one way to respect the importance of the past and move forward with healing.
Ask students what they know about residential schools in Canada and invite them to share any thoughts they may want to discuss. Ask if they are familiar with wearing an orange shirt on September 30th.
Explain that the day they may know as “Orange Shirt Day” is now called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The orange shirt is a way to recognize and support our First Nations, Inuit, and Metis as they continue to mourn. Share the information in the Introduction above. View the video “Indigenous Peoples in the Canadian Residential Schools: RISE” where two residential school survivors share their experiences.
Introduce the word reconciliation and draw out any prior knowledge students may have of its meaning. Discuss questions such as the following:
Share the specific meaning of reconciliation in the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Discuss the following statement:
In the words of Reconciliation Canada, the term reconciliation is “based on the idea of restoring friendship and harmony – about resolving differences, accepting the past and working together to build a better future.”
Ask students what they think Canada can do to help to “build a better future” for all Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples in Canada. How does understanding the past help us make choices for the future? How does an event like National Day for Truth and Reconciliation contribute to the goal? Share responses.
For more information, visit the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
View a clip of poet Rosanna Deerchild reading her poem “On the First Day.”
Brainstorm what message they would like to give this little girl in her first day at the residential school. Post and share responses.