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Day of Orange, Day of Rights

Students across WSD spent Sept. 29 commemorating Orange Shirt Day.

The day was inspired by the story of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad's experiences while attending a residential school, the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, in B.C.

Phyllis lived with her grandmother, who gave her a new orange shirt to wear to the mission in 1973-74.  When she arrived at the school, she was forced to strip and her clothes were taken away—including the orange shirt she cherished. The story has become symbolic of the loss of identity, culture and familial ties in the residential school system.

Orange Shirt Day is officially held on Sept. 30, but communities are encouraged to mark the day on a date that is suitable.

At Grant Park High School, students spent the week raising awareness about residential schools and promoting the day with a shirt kiosk in the main hallway.

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"We wear orange to honour all Indigenous children and families who were affected by residential schools," said Lindsey Trudeau, the Aboriginal Graduation Coach at Grant Park. "It's something that we don't want to forget. We don't want to sweep it under the rug and get past it."

Grant Park student Jennifer Shemeluk-Champagne echoed those sentiments: "There were a lot of wrong things that happened at these schools, so it's important that people realize that, so it doesn't happen again."

 Her sister, Annabelle Shemeluk-Champagne, said she was sad to know that such a system existed in Canada.

"It made me feel bad to learn children were taken away from their families," she said. "It was damaging. People also lost their languages and culture."

On Sept. 29 at The Forks, WSD elementary students gathered to mark Orange Shirt Day and to wrap up their work from the Everybody has the Right 2016-2017 program. The program had students learning from the "Human Library" and recognizing the stories of others—including those impacted by residential schools.

At a previous gathering at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights last spring, students received giant, blank puzzle pieces. The Sept. 29 gathering gave them the chance to link their painted pieces—each one a story—into one giant circle.

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WSD Education for Sustainable Development Consultant Chantelle Cotton said that with the finale of the identity and storytelling program, WSD is moving on to the latest Everybody has the Right program, Everybody has the Right to Belong, this fall.

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