From top: Participants of the Orange Shirt Day march pause at Memorial Park as Shxw’owhamel First Nation member Justin Kelly (centre) leads the song. (X. Y. Zeng photo); A student stands in Silver Creek Elementary School’s “heart garden.” (Submitted photo)

VIDEO: Community celebrates Orange Shirt Day

Students and community members celebrated Orange Shirt Day in various events.

Last Friday morning, Yale First Nations (YFN) felt something was amiss.

“We didn’t hear of anything happening,” said Chief Ken Hansen last Friday. “We’re standing around this morning having a coffee and we decided, well, let’s just put the word out and we’ll just go for a quick walk to show our support.”

Early in the morning, word spread around that people wanting to join a community Orange Shirt Day walk should gather at the YFN office at 1 p.m.

Attendees included members from the Shxw’owhamel and Chawathil First Nations, plus staff from Read Right Society.

Shxw’owhamel member Justin Kelly said he works with youth daily and jumped at the opportunity when he heard of the event through text messages. Kelly volunteered to do the drumming and the singing for the event.

“I feel it’s growing,” said Kelly. “More awareness is brought to the subject and I think it’s a really empowering and healing event that we need to do.”

After speeches and songs, a crowd of about 20 people set out from the YFN office to the southeastern corner of Memorial Park and headed back. Hansen believes that the driving force comes from the people.

“I think it comes from being part of a community and understand exactly what residential school is all about and the survivors and those have yet to come,” said Hansen. “I think it’s just a sheer fact of honour that and acknowledging it and it’s healing.”

Hansen said he did not know how many people would show up at the “impromptu” event, though he emphasized that the important part lies in spreading and remembering the message of the orange shirts.

“There are people who are still affected by this and there are still people waiting to come into this world and hopefully they don’t have to live through that,” said Hansen.

Fraser-Cascade School District 78 (SD78) also participated in Orange Shirt Day, with District Education Office staff wearing an orange shirt to work, as did students in schools such as Hope Secondary School and Silver Creek Elementary School (SCES).

“We believe it is important to raise awareness and provide learning opportunities regarding the history and origin of this day,” said SD78 superintendent Karen Nelson. “We are pleased that the newly revised B.C. curriculum now provides students with learning opportunities related to Aboriginal world views and perspectives”

SCES students celebrated Orange Shirt Day with a specially designed shirt. Students also formed a heart for a photo and also planted a “heart garden” with hand-drawn hearts.

“Orange Shirt Day went very well,” said principal Bruce Becker. “It provided opportunities for staff and students to discuss residential schools and why we have an Orange Shirt Day. The heart represents many things including compassion and caring.”

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by Phyllis Jack Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder in Williams Lake and her experiences on the first day at residential school in 1973.

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