Phyllis Webstad was at Kent Elementary Wednesday talking about Orange Shirt Day, and her experience in residential schools. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

VIDEO: Orange Shirt Day founder visits Kent Elementary

Phyllis Webstad came to the elementary school to talk about the impacts of residential schools

On Wednesday (Sept. 25), students at Kent Elementary were able to learn a little more about residential schools from the woman who started the Orange Shirt Day movement.

Phyllis Webstad was at the Agassiz elementary school in the morning for an assembly in advance of Orange Shirt Day, which will be taking place on Monday, Sept. 30, and stopped in at Hope Secondary for another presentation in the afternoon.

A member of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), Webstad was taken to the St. Joseph Mission in William’s Lake when she was six. Although she only attended the school for one year, the impacts of her time there stayed with her — particularly the story of when the nuns at the Catholic residential school took away the shiny orange shirt her grandmother had bought her.

RELATED: Orange Shirt Day inspires Sept. 30 Truth and Reconciliation national holiday

In 2013, Webstad shared her story as part of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) commemoration project and reunion. From there, orange shirt day evolved into a global event to remember the impacts of residential schools and the legacy they have left behind.

“I think it’s important for an elder like Phyllis to come in because it brings a lot of awareness to our students, and also to our teachers and staff,” Cody Dool, the First Nations support worker at Kent Elementary, said.

“A lot of our students don’t understand or know anything about residential schools at all, so it’s like a really innocent way to bring awareness to our residential school survivors.”

Webstad’s presentation largely focused on her family’s experience in the St. Joseph Mission near Williams Lake. Webstad’s grandmother had attended the school when she was a girl, as as had her mother and all nine of her aunts and uncles.

RELATED: Multigenerational pain of residential schools lingers for many in B.C.

When Webstad was in the residential school in the early 70s, the boys and girls were able to play together at the school. When her aunts and uncles were at the school, however, a fence divided the boys and the girls.

“She was up here on the girls side,” Webstad said, remembering a story her aunt had told her, “and she’d seen her brother walking up and down the fence. And she’d seen him and she knew that she was lonely for his family.

Phyllis Webstad was at Kent Elementary Wednesday talking about Orange Shirt Day, and her experience in residential schools. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

“So she gathered her sisters, and they went and they were walking on the other side of the fence,” she continued. “There was no acknowledging each other, no saying hello to each other, no touching each other or hugging. They just had to walk the fence together, and act like they weren’t talking to each other.”

In other presentations to older students, Webstad said she often goes into details about the apology the Canadian government gave for residential schools, and can be more descriptive with what happened at the residential schools.

“The elementary (schools) are the hardest,” Webstad said. “I have to really watch what I say with the younger ones. With the older ones I can tell them more, but with the younger ones it’s really just surface stuff to introduce the topic.”

Some students had already been introduced to residential schools, through the experiences of their own families.

At the end of Webstad’s presentation to the school, one student mentioned that their grandmother had been in residential school. Webstad then asked how many others had family members who were affected by residential schools: a number of students in all grades put up their hands.

“It’s the truth of the history of Canada,” Webstad said about residential schools. “It’s not just First Nation history, this is Canadian history. And Canadians that live in this country need to be aware of this dark past.”



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Housing concerns prompt decline in Fraser Cascade’s student enrolment

This year saw lower than projected enrolment, likely because of families moving out of the district

Rambo fever descends on Hope

Hope Cinema packed for special screening

Liberal candidate Jati Sidhu backs out of four interview appointments with The News

Jati Sidhu, the Liberal incumbent in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, said he was too busy to talk

Chilliwack maternity ward gets bundle of new equipment

Breast pumps, small fridges for patient rooms and freezer for donor breast milk given to hospital

Advance voting in 2019 federal election begins

Voting at advance polling stations has become a popular choice in Canada over the years

VIDEO: B.C. man’s yard comes alive with grizzlies at night

Malakwa man has captured images of 12 different grizzlies on video

Man who orchestrated Mission murders gets day parole after serving less than three years

Victims’ parents express grief, outrage over parole board decision

Woman, 24, faces life-altering injuries after being dragged 4 blocks by vehicle in Vancouver

A gofundme account says the woman will have to undergo multiple complex surgeries

Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths continue to spike

Carfentanil, an illicit drug more powerful than fentanyl, causing more deaths than ever

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

Most Read