Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wearing Orange this Canada Day

Creedance, my voice student, opened the door to our rehearsal space, sat down and said, "Hey, my teacher was wearing an orange shirt today, too."

"Cool," I said, "Today is Orange Shirt Day, September 30th."

"I know," Creedance said. "Mrs. Gehl told us about it, and I told her about my family who attended residential school."

This conversation led to Creedance's teacher -- who is also my friend -- and I applying for a Multicultural Education Initiatives grant to promote Orange Shirt Day Awareness in Fort Qu'Appelle.

After a lot of brainstorming, we decided that we would walk in two parades -- July 1st Canada Day  and Treaty Four, mid September.

Orange Shirt Day is the legacy of a 2013 ceremony in Williams Lake, BC, where Phyllis Jack Webstad shared her experience of losing her pretty new orange shirt on her first day of Residential School.

Fast forward to Canada Day 2016.

My daughter, Arwen, and I pull up on Centre Street in Fort Qu'Appelle. It might rain, so I call my mom and ask her to pick up some umbrellas. I open up the trunk and pull out the shirts that Arwen and her friends painted with the slogans, "Every Child Matters" on the front and "Orange Shirt Day, September 30th" on the back.

Other groups are lining up to walk in the parade. Students, parents, Mrs. Gehl and her husband, and Arwen's friends join us. Cally from CTV's Indigenous Circle interviews Creedance, her dad, Nick, and me.

Creedance and her dad share stories from their family's experiences at Residential School. They reflect on the strength of their family, the love that they share even though they've experienced loss and pain.

Cally asks me why I think it's appropriate to wear an orange shirt and walk in the Canada Day parade.

I love my country. I am proud to be a Canadian.

I love my grandparents. I am proud of my heritage.

Recognizing the Treaties and how the Treaty right to education was broken through the Indian Act and Residential School is part of my responsibility to my grandparents and my heritage.

We, as settler descendants, have been benefiting from the Treaties for over one hundred years. For us to acknowledge that others have been oppressed through broken Treaties, for us to acknowledge the truth that Residential School contributed to genocide against Indigenous peoples, for us to learn about our disturbing history, this can make us even more Canadian.


  1. Hi Sheena,
    I'm searching the internet for the truth about 'Pile of Bones' in Regina. Someone from there told me that thr truth is that the colonists killed off all the bison to destroy Cree economy and to allow the settlers to start farming. I was wondering if you have heard about this at all? On the Regina website they say that it was the Cree that killed buffalo and placed the bones in a pile. This is difficult for me to believe as I know that the bisons were sacred animals to the First Nations and it wasn't in their values and culture to ever kill wastefully like that. Please let me know if you've heard of this story. Thank you in advance. :)

    1. Hi Maribell. I would suggest reading James Daschuk's "Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life" from the University of Regina Press. Here is a review.,-Politics-of-Starvatio from Canada's History Magazine. I have a lot of work to do, understanding our shared history. Let me know what else you find. I also believe Regina needs to unpack the significance of it's name, "Pile of Bones".