The story is very well known.
When Phyllis Webstad was sent to her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission residential school her grandmother gave her a new orange shirt. Little Phyllis wore the shirt to the mission with pride, but when she arrived, the school took all her clothes away from her.
She never got it back.
Webstad has described the experience, saying: “My feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
The poignant story is, of course, only a tiny representation of some of the abuses and cruelties inflicted upon the children of the residential school system, but it has become a symbol of the wider issue of First Nation reconciliation.
It’s also part of how Orange Shirt Day was born, and in Sooke a small group of residents are working to ensure that people are aware of the day and its meaning.
“Last year we gathered informally in the Sooke Town Centre, wearing our orange shirts with the message Every Child Matters. T’Sou-Ke elders were present and provided their wisdom and thoughts, and there was an opportunity for everyone to speak,” said Orange Shirt Day organizer Terri Alcock.
“This year we’re going to gather again to keep the message alive. We want people to learn about the need for reconciliation … the need to try to make up for at least some of what was done to these children.”
Alcock admits that until a few years ago she did not know much about the issues upon which Orange Shirt Day is built, but started attending the Sooke Truth and Reconciliation Circle.
“I really didn’t know about the schools, but I’ve learned a lot,” said Alcock.
“Maybe we can draw attention to the issues and some others will try to learn and understand that this is a shameful part of our history that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.”
Anyone interested in being a part of the Orange Shirt event in Sooke is invited to the town centre on Sept. 29 at 11 a.m.
“Please wear your orange shirt. If you don’t have one, wear anything orange from a shirt of your own to a button or ribbon,” said Alcock.