There were orange shirts as far as the eye could see at City Hall during a noon hour ceremony Friday as “Orange shirt day” was proclaimed as part of the “every child matters” campaign to remember the atrocities of the residential school program.
It was a presentation of City of Edmonton, Safe and Caring Schools, and the two school boards.
Elder Jerry Wood, 76, is helping the two school boards put together the program. He agreed the situation is better than a year ago, and he said it’ll be even better next year. “It’s going to take a long time before the indigenous people will be healed,” he told reporters. “It’s not something that’s going to happen over night. It won’t be in my lifetime, but at least people now are aware of it.”
He told the young students in the audience about how not every one of his classmates returned home to their parents. “I don’t sugar coat it. I just tell them the way it was,” said Wood, who spoke of his 11 years in the residential school system. “When I do workshops I’m always asked, ‘why are aboriginal people the way they are?’ Well so many of them are on the streets, effected by alcohol and drugs, poverty, lack of education. I’d say the biggest culprit in that is the residential school system that we went through.”
Safe and Caring Schools put together the program. Executive director Leslie MacEachern said awareness is growing in the class room. “They’re starting to understand what happened. I know when I first heard about residential schools, and the last residential school that closed in Canada was in 1996. I hadn’t learned anything about residential schools, but my kids have.”
This was the first orange shirt day in Edmonton, following up on the launch three years ago in BC. It marks how a young girl named Phyllis had her brand new orange shirt taken away from her on first day at an Indian Residential School. The shirt was never returned.