‘They are not stories anymore’: Orange Shirt Day ceremonies held in the north

Every Child Matters, the message for Orange Shirt Day. Photo by Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan

Celebrations for the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Friday, Sept. 30, included a walk from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) office to kiskinwuhumatowin Urban Reserve, where Residential School experiences shared by Residential School survivors, and lunch on a cold, rainy day.

Event MC Tom Roberts, a residential school survivor, emphasized the importance of talking about and sharing Residential School stories to raise awareness in the community and beyond.

“They are not stories anymore; they’re real life experiences,” Roberts said.

He spoke of the importance of healing for Survivors and about there is no one way to heal.

“We all have our own way of healing,” he said.

Tom Roberts was MC for the gathering along with Abby McIntyre, health worker with Prevention and Recovery, Lac La Ronge Indian Band Health Services. Photo by Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan

Orange Shirt Day ceremony focuses on honouring former students, and educating the next generation

Roberts noted many Indigenous people are choosing one way of healing, which “is not the right way; that’s drugs and alcohol to do it.”

Margaret McIntrye shared a prayer in her Dene language and Roberts offered a prayer in his Cree language.

Language is one of the parts of culture Indigenous people were prohibited from using at the schools.

She called for a Moment of Silence for the children who didn’t make it home from the schools.

She spoke of her aunt, who died at the schools. “We never knew how she died.”

She thanked everyone who came to share the “special day with us, for walking with us and sharing lunch together.”

The theme for the day this year, Remembering the Children and also honouring survivors.

“The more we honour survivors and our families, the stronger we become.”

The Residential School system lasted for 165 years 1881 and ending in 1996.

The purpose of the day and events – to raise awareness of “the harms of the past, which we are still experiencing today, through intergenerational trauma.”

Education for youth and future generations was the focus of the event.

“Christopher Columbus did not discover Canada. Indigenous people were here already. John Cabot did not discover Newfoundland, there were Indigenous people there already. Jacque Cartier did not discover the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there were Indigenous people there already. Peter Pond, a trader with the Northwest company, did not discover Portage La Loche, my Dene ancestors were there already.”

The day is referred to also as Orange Shirt Day and there was a sea of orange on the grounds. The story comes from Phyllis Webstad, who wore a new orange shirt to school the first day and had it taken away, never to see it again. She wrote her story to raise awareness about the history of Residential Schools.

Cathy Wheaton Bird offers a healing dance for the children who never returned home and Survivors. Photo by Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan

Cathy Wheaton Bird danced during the event in memory of the many children who never returned from the schools.

It’s not entertainment; it’s healing, Wheaton Bird said, of her dance.

Terri McIntrye-Roberts, Jonas Bird, Hope and Sam Hardlotte shared aspects of their Residential School experiences with the cold and attentive crowd.

Participants in the event shared bag lunches before leaving.