The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recorded more than 6,000 deaths of residential school students out of the estimated 150,000 children who attended.
Statistics show the odds of a child dying in the residential school system was higher than that of a Canadian soldier dying in World War II.
This Sunday (Sept. 30), the United Native Friendship Centre here will join communities across Canada in honouring and commemorating those who suffered through the residential school system by participating in “Orange Shirt Day.”
From 11 a.m.-2 p.m., an event will be held at the Circle of Life Centre (616 Mowat Ave.), during which attendees will hear a reading of ‘Phyllis’ Story: The Original Orange Shirt,’ followed by discussions, traditional hand drumming, and a sharing circle.
“The story grew out of a lady by the name of Phyllis,” said event organizer Melanie McPherson. “She was starting residential school and her grandmother took her out to buy some new clothes.
“She bought her a shiny new orange shirt but when she arrived to St. Joseph’s Mission, her shirt was taken away from her,” McPherson noted.
At the young age of six, Phyllis and all of her residential school classmates were stripped of their clothes, including the orange shirt, leaving them feeling worthless, confused, and with a loss of identity.
Since that time, the colour orange has reminded Phyllis of how she and her classmates were treated and since has served as a symbol for residential school survivors across the country.
“The orange shirt is a symbol of the losses that were experienced by thousands of students and their families and their communities over several generations,” McPherson said.
“It’s meant to commemorate and to honour the children who survived residential schools and to remember the people who didn’t.”
“And it’s in recognition of the harms that the residential school system did to a child’s sense of esteem and their well-being,” she added.
The damages done to those who survived residential school still is very present today McPherson noted.
“It’s flowed over from generation to generation,” she remarked. “Some of the losses were loss of family, loss of language, the loss of culture, freedom, the loss of parenting skills, and loss of self-esteem.
“If people really knew the history, they would have more understanding,” McPherson added.
Anybody who wants a better understanding of the effects that residential schools have had is welcome to attend the UNFC’s “Orange Shirt Day” event on Sunday.
“Everybody is welcome,” McPherson said. “It’s just an open and safe place for people to share their story.”