Over 240 students from Hudson Road Elementary School in West Kelowna took part in Orange Shirt Day on Monday.
The national awareness day is organized to commemorate former residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who had all of her possessions taken away her, including an orange shirt given to her by her grandmother, when she was six-years-old while attending a residential school in Williams Lake, B.C., in 1973.
The annual event is designed to commemorate all residential school survivors and to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by spreading the awareness of residential school history to all Canadians.
As part of the event on Monday, 30 Mt. Boucherie Indigenous Academy members helped students participate in traditional First Nation activities — including beading, storytelling, drumming and singing.
Cody Busch, a Grade 12 student and a drummer at the event on Monday, said the activities help to get the message across to students.
“We got them to sing the Okanagan song. The drumming is to help the students collaborate with each other and to help them understand the things that have happened from residential schools at Orange Shirt Day.”
Every student also completed a “why I matter” activity by cutting out a paper t-shirt and getting students to write down what was special to them in their daily life. The t-shirts were then hung up along the school’s hallways.
Hudson Road Indigenous advocate Simone Gauthier said the day is just one more opportunity to talk about what happened in Canada’s past.
“In 2008, there was the big apology from the Government of Canada, which acknowledged that taking Indigenous children away from their homes wasn’t the right thing to do. Now, we’re all about reconciliation action. We want to take action and educate everyone — including students and parents — about what happened at residential schools.”
Thousands of students also participated in the sixth annual Orange Shirt Day activities across 40 other Central Okanagan school today.
The last residential school operated by the Canadian government closed in 1996.