In recognition of Orange Shirt Day at the end of last month, Holy Trinity Academy and St. Anthony School participated in very special ceremonies.
The story of Phyllis Webstad’s orange shirt was shared with all grades. Students then looked deeper into how losing one’s culture, family, and sense of self would affect them.
Students also learned about the varying Indigenous cultures of Canada; some grade groups focused on music and storytelling, another explored the Medicine Wheel, and older students spoke of traditional medicines and other practices. The goal of these discussions was to give context to the loss residential school survivors, victims, families, and communities experienced for 100 years.
The younger students then participated in the “Shiny Shawl” exercise. One or two students from each group were chosen to wear a shiny orange shawl mimicking Phyllis Webstad's shirt. The shawl was taken from the students at one point in the session to reflect the feelings of sudden loss and change.
Holy Trinity Academy students took part in the "Very Long Shawl" exercise.
“In our moment of reflection not a sound beyond deep breaths could be heard,” says Holy Trinity Academy Special Education Coordinator Alison Struth, who was also invited to speak to students at St. Anthony School this year.
“Once a student felt they were in a place to step forward for change, they lowered the shawl from their shoulders and walked away. I cannot explain the emotion in that gym: 200 meters of continuous shawl and 170 hearts, all bound in solidarity for Every Child.”
Mrs. Struth goes on to explain students have acknowledged Orange Shirt Day in various ways over the years, including a school-wide smudge, laying of ashes, singing along to a drum, and circles of prayers to The Creator.
“It's been a few years coming to get to this point of engagement and understanding,” she says.
“This year, because many students have had years of stories, dialog, and general awareness of this land’s history and the people who are its original caretakers, we were able to become one — in solidarity under one very long patchwork orange shawl — to say ‘every child matters’. It was amazing.”