There are so many missing Indigenous children, women, and men, in this country, that I do not know where to start.
Last night I had the most amazing experience. I got to hear the stories of other survivors, I got to listen to their pain, and I was trusted with their sorrow. They gave ME space, to hear THEIR stories, so that “I” would know I am not alone.
Sometimes that’s precisely what you need. Shame, anxiety, depression, rape, torture, all of it was discussed, it was on the table, and it was one of the most….intense sensations that I have ever experienced.
Orange Shirt Day originates from the story of Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. In 1973, on her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, BC, Phyllis’s shiny new orange shirt was stripped from her, never to be seen again. 40 years later, on September 30th, 2013, Phyllis spoke publicly for the first time about her experience, and thus began the Orange Shirt Day movement.–Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Center.
We didn’t have orange shirt day at my school in Calgary, and I don’t really remember if we did it when I was in school in BC, but here’s the the thing, it is an act that speaks for EVERY child.
I don’t often talk a lot about how much the power, strength, and resilience of the Indigenous community means to me, and that’s because this past year I’ve largely been “hey what about me,” but last night I realized that Orange shirts mean me too.
The shirt represents the idea that no child, regardless of color, should be faced with being humiliated, because of their skin color, or because of who their people were, and so for the first time I am genuinely grateful to see this shirt.
I see this shirt on someone in my town and I start to believe that person cares about the Indigenous community, and the struggles they have faced, and then I think, “well maybe if you care about them, you’ll care about me too,” and the thought that they MIGHT care about my story, gives me hope, and gives me strength, on days when the child I used to be, tries to slip into the “no body loves us,” mode.
I realized last night, just how many of the kids that I grew up with – white, Indian, Indigenous, Black, Asian, were kids who were molested and abused by the adults that should have kept us safe. And it’s not because our abusers were Catholic, it’s because our abusers were abusers.
The Indigenous Communities of Canada, continue to be reminded that the people who run this country, that they matter less. Think about this:
153 years ago, total strangers came to this land, and poisoned, threatened, beat, and raped the first settlers off their land, and all these generations later, the children of the first victims still do not have access to clean water and true education.
The last several months, Canada and her citizens have been inundated with stories of the Indigenous community, and for the first time in MY life, the stories are not the lies that we were fed as children.
There are days and days and days that go by and all I can think about is my own trauma, and I have a ton of support. I have a HUGE support system of people who care about me, love me and want to see me move forward.
I am not required to live on a reservation without clean water, or in a large city without access to my family. I have a lot more freedoms than my Indigenous neighbors, and it’s ONLY because my family is descended from generations of Immigrants.
This country was founded by Indigenous people from a variety of places around the world, each of them with their own language, each of them with their own stories, and histories, and root systems, and while we remember today, that they are owed soo much more than many of us can provide, what about tomorrow?
I got very excited a few weeks ago when I woke up early to see a Black woman on CTV News, which is one of the largest news organizations in the country. I had never seen that before. You know what else I’ve never seen on CTV news? Or Global? or CBC? (to be fair I do not watch CBC), an Indigenous Anchor and that matters because when the largest “news” organizations in the country are filled with white people, then the rest of us still have to fight ten times harder to have our stories heard.
When I called CTV to tell them my story, and to get their support, and to ask them to help me share my story, I was told and I quote, “it’s not an important enough story to talk about on the air.”
Now pause, and imagine how many years the Indigenous community went hearing the same thing before people FINALLY started to listen.
Ignoring the stories of the residential school system isn’t going to make those stories go away, but what we CAN do, is listen when we are able, put on an orange shirt when we are asked, and fight to make sure that what happened in Canada’s past never happens to any child, ever again.
Here are some Interesting “Orange Shirt Day” related facts:
1.67 million people
Indigenous peoples’ is a collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. More than 1.67 million people in Canada (4.9% of the population of Canada) self-identified as an Indigenous person on Canada’s 2016 Census of Population. Nov. 3, 2020
Between 1960s and the 1980s, the “Sixties Scoop” removed First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their homes. Children were adopted into predominantly non-Indigenous families, often out of province or out of the country and away from their languages, traditions and extended families. Parents and families were rarely notified about where their children had been relocated. Only after 1980 would provincial child welfare workers inform a Band or community about where the children were taken. Many families and children who were part of the Sixties Scoop are still searching for their relatives.
In addition to residential schools, the Canadian government and Christian churches also ran Indian day schools. The Canadian government relied on day schools to assimilate Indigenous children until the late 1870s, when residential schools began to be more prominent. Day schools were schools where First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were sent during the day, but lived with their parents and remained in their communities. These schools were not included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, nor were they included in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement of 2006. However day schools, like residential schools, were places were students experienced many types of abuse, including but not limited to physical, verbal, and sexual. Not much research has been done on day schools, but this is beginning to change.
All of this information can be found on UBC’s website, and while we have come a long way, we as a country have millions of miles to go, until our Indigenous cousins feel the justice they so rightfully demand.
VanMag has a list of shops you can buy an Orange Shirt from, using shops that support Indigenous artists specifically. PLEASE consider checking it out. The money raised can go a long way to supporting Indigenous artists in our community.
To all of the survivors, and their children, and their children’s children’s children, thank you for sharing your stories with me last night. Thank you for showing me that I am not alone, thank you for giving me hope, so that I don’t give in or give up.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall