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Orange Shirt Day changes gears

Orange Shirt Day will look a little different this year.

The devoted community members Curran Jacobs, June Skye-Stacey and Helen Jarvis Montour, have been raising awareness about the legacy of residential schools for seven years now.

This year, on September 30, the team has decided to hold a birthday party.

“In residential schools, many of the children didn’t get to celebrate their birthdays, and so we are taking the day to honour them and celebrate their lives of resilience with love and gathering,” said Jacobs.

In light of the thousands of unmarked grave discoveries in the past few months at schools in Canada, there have been many intense emotions surrounding the topic of these “schools.” Jacobs emphasized that it’s more important now than ever to acknowledge those survivors and the lasting impact this has had on the entire community.

“And while the legacy of the residential school system isn’t something we can celebrate, what we do have are survivors and families of survivors that have passed that are living proof of resilience in spite of colonization,” said Jacobs.

With a limited budget, and the current COVID-19 numbers, the organizers have been acutely mindful of who they can accommodate on this day.

“To make this day as feasible and special as possible, we are only inviting our selected guest speakers, the survivors themselves, and the families of survivors.”

With that being said, the organizers have been encouraging people to drive by during the event, which will be held at the green space at Orville Standup Park, beginning at 9 a.m.

“The beauty of Orange Shirt Day lies in the fact that it was born out of one woman’s story of her experience in residential school and her strength to share that story with everyone across Canada.”

Jacobs, of course, is referencing the strength and determination of Phyllis Jack Webstad.

On Webstad’s first day in residential school, when she was only six years old, her clothes were stripped from her, leaving her without her favourite orange shirt given to her by her grandmother.

“Every individual has their own stories, and every community has those people, and so it is important that we let those stories be shared. Orange Shirt Day is a designated day for sharing stories,” said Jacobs. “It’s beautiful and so necessary.”

Since this is the first year that September 30 will be an official statutory holiday, Jacobs hopes this can be a day Onkwehón:we feel recognized. “We never stop being Indigenous and are expected to fit into different spaces while navigating the world outside of our communities.”

For non-Indigenous folk, she hopes they take a step back and think about their position with respect to Indigenous Peoples. “Canada has a lot of holidays that are about honouring, so September 30 is the opportunity to add to the honouring of something crucial in Canadian history: residential schools,” she added.

Jacobs, Skye-Stacey and Montour would like to thank the numerous donations they have received over the last few months. Notably, Harry Rice, Cole Sky and Trevor Lazare donated $2,000 they raised at a fundraising golf event. The money went toward the event and committee.

“At the end of the day, we support each other,” she expressed. “That in and of itself speaks to our collective resilience, and so I think that is what keeps us going as a committee and as a community to continue to educate and build awareness about this specific issue.”

Jacobs explained that these past months have been exceptionally challenging as community members come to terms with the persistent effects of colonialism.

“One thing that I have always admired about our community is that when someone needs help, we always find a way,” she said.

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