Annual event observes dark chapter in history, prompts dialogue, ideas, around reconciliation
October 05, 2018
“A wild rose whispers sweetness to the squirrel, a child loves everybody first.”
- Chief Dan George (Tsleil-Waututh Nation, July 24, 1899 –September 23, 1981)
The bright T-shirts and buttons MITT students and staff wore last Friday in observance of Orange Shirt Day were by no means subtle. Nor was the experience that inspired the event: Phyllis Webstad’s introduction to Residential School, when her beloved orange shirt, and her sense of self, were taken away from her at the tender age of six. The unifying message Webstad (Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation) chose for the event—which is observed across Canada every Sept. 30—is “every child matters.” It is a statement that goes without saying. And a powerful reminder of a time in Canada’s history when it did not.
Activities across MITT campuses turned Orange Shirt Day into an opportunity to listen, to learn, and to reconcile. Students at MITT YouthBuild, most of them of Indigenous heritage, and staff began their day with a breakfast before participating in a series of presentations, activities, and discussions about the day and its historical and contemporary significance. They watched videos of Phyllis Webstad’s story and listened to personal reflections from MITT’s Indigenous Student Advisor, Ryan Bruyere (Sagkeeng First Nation).
President Ray Karasevich joined the group and shared his experiences in South Africa during Apartheid—the country’s period from 1948 to 1990 of systemic racial segregation, a system that drew inspiration from Canada’s Indian Act of the same time. A sharing circle gave everyone in attendance an opportunity to express their thoughts or ponder them in quiet meditation. T-shirts and buttons, the latter designed and provided by students in MITT’s Graphic and Print Technician program, provided an added measure of unity for all who participated.
“This is a sombre day, but also an opportunity for us all to share ideas around how we work together toward a brighter more hopeful future for all peoples in Canada,” said Kimberley Puhach (Sandy Bay First Nation), Director of People Services. “I was so moved to see how engaged and open students were throughout our activities and discussions—especially around a subject that is so deeply personal.”
At Henlow campus, students in the Early Childhood Education diploma program were provided the historical context for Orange Shirt Day and then through a sharing circle and a word cloud exercise, invited to express their thoughts. For many students in the program who are not from Canada, the concepts of truth and reconciliation in a Canadian context are brought to light through experiences at MITT like Orange Shirt Day and the Blanket Exercise they participate in as part of their orientation. Lessons that often trigger responses of sadness or shock.
The important learning opportunities of Orange Shirt Day are as much for MITT staff as for its students. Over at 7 Fultz, team members in People Services, Enrolment and Admissions, and Finance worked in groups to create concepts and questions around reconciliation—the outcomes of which were documented on thought boards.
In a campus community built around education, Orange Shirt Day provided an excellent opportunity for everyone to learn. It was also a reminder that once we acknowledge something as wrong, we start the journey toward making it right.