“The message of Orange Shirt Day, where every child matters, doesn’t just live within the walls of the building, but within the hearts of the community and the people of the nation.” – Roy Feschuk
Students and staff at John Diefenbaker Public School gathered for an assembly on Monday for Orange Shirt Day.
The national movement recognizes children who were stripped from their families and culture to attend government-funded, church-ran schools.
Orange Shirt Day occurs on Sept. 30 because it’s the time of the year that children were taken to residential schools.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Catholic missionaries laid the foundation of these schools to assimilate Indigenous children into a Euro-Canadian lifestyle.
It’s best referred to as ‘cultural genocide,’ says the report. This is because Indigenous children weren’t allowed to speak their languages, their long hair was cut off and they were punished if they were found practicing their cultures.
The federal government underfunded residential schools. As a result, the schools were understaffed and teachers were improperly trained, the buildings were under heated and inadequately built and students were malnourished and neglected.
The TRC says the effects of cultural loss and trauma from residential schools are still felt today.
Roy Feschuk, principal of John Diefenbaker Public School, said the school provided all students and staff with an orange shirt.
“Every person here is wearing the colour orange, and there’s a story that goes along with our Orange Shirt Day,” he said in the assembly.
Phyllis (Jack) Webstad was just six years old when she attended the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia, according to the Orange Shirt Society’s website.
Her grandmother spent the little money she had on a new orange shirt for Webstad. Webstad described it as a shiny orange shirt with a string laced up the front.
When she got to the school, staff took it away.
Feschuk said the message he wants students to take away from the topic is resiliency of Indigenous people and hope for the future.
“It’s making sure that we stand up for each other as a community,” he said.
“The school is a big community piece that has (Indigenous families’) backs and is there for them and is here to help them advocate and to do some of the things that they may find difficult.”
MP Randy Hoback, Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt, the Northern Lights Casino’s Richard Ahenakew, the police service’s Sgt. Travis Willie and Cst. Mathew Brown and the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division’s Cory Trann and Bill Yeaman were in attendance.
Feschuk said he hopes having these guests at the assembly shows students that it’s not just a movement within their school.
“The message of Orange Shirt Day ,where every child matters, doesn’t just live within the walls of the building, but within the hearts of the community and the people of the nation.”
Hoback’s speech touched on striving for a better future.
“Canada is a great country. We love our country. There’s things that have happened in the past that we need to learn and make sure we never repeat,” he emphasized.
“We want to be a better country—we want to be better and wiser.”
Rancourt started her speech by saying her children attended John Diefenbaker Public School, and being back in their gym brought back memories of watching sports and going to events like Orange Shirt Day.
“John Diefenbaker school has such a welcoming environment. You have good teachers and friends and you are treated with respect. You’re not afraid to come into your classroom and for the most part you look forward every morning to coming to school. School wasn’t always like this for everyone,” she said.
According to the TRC, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended residential schools. The last one closed in 1996 in Punnichy, Saskatchewan.