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Why Orange Shirt Day matters to everyone

This morning the community will gather to honour residential school survivors and remember the ones who never came home.

Orange Shirt Day, an initiative started a few years ago in BC and based on a story from residential school survivor Phyllis Jack-Webstad, is as important a day as any other.

It’s a time when all Kahnawa’kehró:non, along with every other Native person in this country, should be making the effort to reflect on what was – the horrific things that happened to helpless kids, the abuse, the neglect, the deaths and murders – and stand up and say “this will never happen again.”

But it is not only our time to remember. Non-Natives have to learn this in school, they have to teach the future leaders the reality of what happened, and they have to open their hearts and minds and know that this happened here in the country they so adore, and that it was done to innocent children with the blessing of both the church and the government – adults who betrayed all of us.

It’s a shameful past of the church and state, one that we can’t be ashamed to talk about, learn and teach others, to ensure everyone we encounter is familiar with this sordid past.

There’s a reason why some of us are apathetic, why some hate who they are, why some people take their own lives, and just because you didn’t go to residential school doesn’t mean you continue to live without that trauma today.

It is on our shoulders every single day.

You have to learn from your mistakes, Canada, and we have to heal from our wounds, Onkwehón:we brothers and sisters.

It’s the only way to move forward.

But at the same time, we will never forget what our mothers, fathers, grandparents and other family members went through to be here today.

They are our heroes.

Even if their pain is too much for them, and they may never fully recover, it is up to us to fight for those little children, to make a better place for the ones who haven’t been born yet, and to show them how much we love them and appreciate their strong will and intense spirit.

Residential schools come in different forms these days, and with current laws that underfund child welfare and forces parents to give up their children to non-Native families – continuing the 60s Scoop shame – Ottawa is still doing the same thing, and getting away with it, for the most part.

You want to force them to pay the equal amount for a Native child? Take them to court.

People like Cindy Blackstock (Google her) are fighting hard for our kids now, but way back then, people like her were hard to come by.

It’s up to us to force the government to learn from their mistakes and change their ways.

That’s why today is so important.

The sacrifices and deaths of our tiny children, all because they looked different and spoke a different language, can never be forgotten and we owe it to them to keep fighting.

steveb@easterndoor.com
Steve Bonspiel
Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec. Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news. He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other Native publications. Steve was awarded the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015. He has also been QCNA president since 2012, sits on the Canadian Community Newspapers Association (CCNA) board of directors, along with the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).
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