Students and staff at Elliot Lake schools and schools across the north shore marked Orange Shirt Day yesterday, recognizing the pain and suffering of Indigenous students forced into residential schools.
The day is meant to educate and promote the indignities suffered by Indigenous children who were removed from their traditional families and culture, and recognize the impact those children faced from the residential school system across Canada. Some died at those schools and others continue to suffer from their traumatic experiences from what has become known as cultural genocide.
Students, staff and teachers at Elliot Lake’s Our Lady of Lourdes (OLOL) French Immersion Catholic school took part and were joined by students at Our Lady of Fatima school along with students with the public schools at separate events.
OLOL vice principal Nadia Zanatta sent Elliot Lake Today an overview of activities that took place at the school to “promote the honouring and remembrance of all Indigenous women and men who attended residential schools across Canada.”
“We began our day with providing orange t-shirts to every student and staff member. It was so fantastic to see all of the orange within our hallways and classrooms. We remained united throughout the day – a true example of living this year's theme for Catholic Education: Nurturing Hope,” she said.
The orange shirt recognizes Phyllis Webstad, an Indigenous student who attended a residential school on her first day as a Grade 1 student. She was given a new orange shirt by her grandmother on that day at the school in British Columbia in 1979 and was told to remove it. She was then given a school uniform to wear and the orange shirt was never returned to her.
“Our school community joined in a virtual assembly – with a land acknowledgement, National Anthem, a prayer led by NSL teacher, Marlene Essex, and a video of Phyllis's story – understanding why we wear the colour orange and how Orange Shirt Day was started. Mona Jones, our Indigenous Lead from the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, was also present during our virtual assembly,” Zanatta said.
OLOL Grade 7/8 class had the opportunity to virtually listen live to residential school survivor Roger Chum's story.
Each student decorated and designed their own shirt – currently displayed in the hallways of the school. Throughout the day, teachers delivered more instruction about the importance of Orange Shirt Day both in French and English.
To close out the day’s activities, Lee Simpson-Johnston performed an honour song for the students. A Thank-you prayer, led by Essex and the NSL students, was also made.
"Students participated in a variety of rich learning opportunities. It is important for them to learn – it is important for them to know because every child matters,” Zanatta added. “Today showed us that we can still do things like school wide initiatives with restrictions. You need to be creative, and that is what we did."
"It is important to wear an orange shirt. I liked that I got to listen to the drumming too," said Grade 5 student Charlotte Parsons.