Day 19 (of 186) #orangeshirtday
I started the uncomfortable conversation with my students about one of Canadian histories darker stories: why we wear orange shirts on the last day (or last school day) of September. When first asked, some students thought it was connected to Pink Shirt Day Im February to raise awareness of bullying. But today’s meaning is a bit more….institutional.
The residential school concept is dark; while on the surface it pays homage to the boarding school system popular in England, it varies in one stark contrast: neither the students nor their parents wanted them to go. The focus was to indoctrinate learners into losing their family culture and adopt a new one. History shows this has never gone well, and that was repeated in Canada….and as much as we would like to think it was long ago, the last one did not close until 1996.
And as so much of traditional schooling has not been connected with positive memories by families and sending children away to a university….well….fool me once shame on you, but won’t get fooled again…! Trust has to be re-earned. It’s like when my wireless server gifted me a $100 Uber gift certificate. It could’ve been a million dollars because where I live there is no Uber. It’s out of reach…..so dangling free post-secondary isn’t much of a “reward” to further extend time on an education system that was (is?) too cruel to families for too long. (And as much as my students shared that they didn’t always want to be at school, it’s one thing when families send you to school [because there is a sense of trust] it’s something else when someone takes you away from your home and family to go to school) <— symbolic connection to the school buses that pick up any & all students at bus stops on the way to school on the first day of school…
So why orange? As a colleague once asked “why orange – not everybody has orange and it doesn’t go with anything” (confession: when I joined a unique school and was told our school colour was orange I was quite excited as I do have a variety of orange clothes to select from) I was able to share the story about Phyllis Jack Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder.
On her first day of residential school, staff stripped her of her brand new orange shirt and she never saw it again. She says the colour now reminds her of how her feelings didn’t matter at the school.
This story circulated widely. And many connected to it – conforming to others expectations of what you should look like. Changing clothes and cutting hair as a way to symbolize moving (or being moved) from one culture to another.
Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip creates a powerful song and video about being a “stranger” not being able to fit in any one place: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=za2VzjkwtFc
I wish I knew now when I was younger so I could better empathize with the kids I grew up with over what their families had gone through. And I wear orange today to symbolize that we must learn from our past and not make decisions like this again. And hopefully through the Truth & Reconciliation commission more “truths” can be dealt with from our history and more healing can occur.