On Sept. 30, students all across Canada took part in Orange Shirt Day.
The event itself has roots near the Bulkley Valley.
Residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad told the story of how she had her orange shirt taken away from her once she reached the residential school she attended while discussing her own experience at a residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake in 2013.
“I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school,” Webstad said in a promotional piece of material about the day.
All across School District No. 54 – Bulkley Valley (SD54) students took part in various activities to bring attention to the tragedy of residential schools and the importance of not sweeping them under the rug when discussing Canadian history.
At Muheim Memorial Elementary School (MMES) vice-principal Liliana Pesce said they left the specifics up to individual teachers so that they could present the information about the day to students in an age-appropriate manner.
Pesce, who also teachers a Grade 4/5 class at MMES, said for her class this was creating two banners that her students decorated with messages and quotes about topics such as resiliency, courage, hope and culture.
One banner was presented to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, while the other was given to the Dze L K’ant Cultural Centre, where it was displayed during an annual general meeting.
Pesce said it was important for her to make connections between the day and the local community for her students.
“We talked about [how] this was something that happened in our past and then we talked about what does reconciliation mean and what does moving forward mean?”
She said much of the day was spent discussing topics such as inclusion and making sure people always felt like they belonged.
“We brainstormed in class about how can we make other people feel that they matter … what can you do to be a good friend? What can you do to make those around you feel like they matter?”
“They wrote those messages on the orange T-shirt and then some of the kids found inspirational quotes … that they felt connected to the day and they put those on the banner as well.”
Another element of getting her class to connect with the community was an annual visit to the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre.
“One of the ladies who works at the Friendship Center is a residential school survivor, so we just kind of make a point every year to just head over and give her a hug and let her know that it’s still part of our dialogue and we’re still talking to kids about the event and what it symbolizes.”
Pesce said she feels it’s important to acknowledge the past and not sweep Canadian history under the rug
“None of this was a part of my education so I’m learning along with the kids it seems.
“Information that I’m presenting to them I feel like I’m learning with them.”
This element of sharing the information they learn with their parents is something Pesce said she has tried to encourage her own students to do.
“I try to get the kids to share their story back with parents because this is new for the parents too — this isn’t stuff that we were taught taught in school.”