Orange Shirt Day is quickly approaching. This day raises awareness about residential school (IRS) history and commemorates IRS survivors and those who, sadly, did not survive. Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 as a result of one survivor, Phyllis Webstad, sharing her experience attending residential school. On her first day of school her new orange shirt was taken away from her. Her experience and the Orange Shirt Day initiative are used to teach people about residential schools’ assimilation practices. September 30th was chosen as the date for Orange Shirt Day because this is the time of year when Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes and placed in residential schools. Please note that while September can be a time of excitement and new beginnings for some, for others it is a reminder of traumatic events. Children were forcefully taken from their families, or without the families even knowing. Sometimes they never saw their children again.
Orange Shirt Day is near to my heart. While I was working with Indigenous communities I built close relationships with many families, and Kokums (Grandmothers). These people helped me along my learning journey, and became special to me in so many ways. As trust developed, they shared their stories. Many recall that they were not allowed to speak to their brothers, or other relatives who might be at the IRS with them, and did not see their families for months or years at a time. Elder Dr. Leona Makokis shared her experience with identity diffusion. Her story is particularly powerful. When she returned home after being at residential school for the year, it was the ceremonial season. Her mother was preparing for the Sundance. Leona recalls, realizing that as much as she didn’t connect with the teachings at residential school, or belong there, she recognized that she also no longer felt she connected with the traditional teachings of her family. She had been taught that ceremony and traditional ways would send her “to hell”. Disconnect in personal identity impacts mental health, in a psychological phenomenon called identity diffusion. Patrick Buffalo, an Elder, and friend, has developed one approach to helping people heal. He built his Mostosomay Wellness Village. Dr. Makokis is a resident Elder and past president of Blue Quills University. She spent years healing from IRS Trauma, reconnecting with her culture, and continues to teach people. She will be the keynote speaker at the University of Alberta’s Orange Shirt day event, hosted by the Aboriginal Teacher’s Education Program, on Friday, September 27th, 2019.
To visibly demonstrate your support of this important initiative, please wear your orange shirt on September 30th.