Home History books ‘History books on the move’: Founders of Victoria’s Orange Shirt Day reflect on reconciliation

‘History books on the move’: Founders of Victoria’s Orange Shirt Day reflect on reconciliation


September 30 marks the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

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Eddy Charlie and Kristin Spray on Orange Shirt Day 2021. Photo courtesy of the City of Victoria

In 2013, Phyllis Webstad shared a story about her bright orange shirt being taken from her at age six when she arrived at St. Joseph Mission boarding school. That year, the first official Orange Shirt Day event was born, and since then conversations about Indigenous reconciliation and the negative impact of residential schools have gone global.

Now, Webstad has reclaimed the orange shirt as a symbol of solidarity with residential school survivors, their families, and those who never returned home.

When Kristin Spray and Eddy Charlie met in an Indigenous studies class at Camosun College in 2015, they were also inspired by Webstad’s story. On Vancouver Island, there were five residential schools that existed until the 1980s. It is known that 202 children died in these schools, although the actual number is believed to be higher. Spray and Charlie felt compelled to do something about Victoria and started hosting their own Orange Shirt Day event.

At first, Charlie says there was a lot of hesitation from the Aboriginal community.

“The resistance came from Indigenous Elders having conversations about the trauma of residential schools,” he said. “But the work we did opened the conversation with seniors who either refused to talk about their past experience or were too scared to do so.

September 30 marks the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is also Orange Shirt Day. Charlie says it has become a very poignant day for Indigenous people.

“More and more people have chosen to stand up and say, ‘this is important to me because my parents and my grandparents went to boarding schools,’” he said. “There is no better platform than September 30.”

For those looking to observe the holidays who aren’t directly impacted by residential schools and who come from settler backgrounds, Charlie says the best thing to do is to keep an open mind and listen.

“Residential school survivors are walking, talking about the history books, and people need to hear their stories,” he said. “Let the words of residential school survivors penetrate your hearts and minds.

Charlie said he and Spray will continue to work for truth and reconciliation wherever possible, “so the grandkids who aren’t here yet don’t have to do what we’re doing,” he said. -he declares.

“We want to keep doing this until we’re no longer needed, until someone else finds the courage to stand up and speak up as well.”

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