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Vernon observes Orange Shirt Day

7th annual Orange Shirt Day honours residential school survivors
Okanagan College’s Vernon campus observed Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, 2019. (Okanagan College)

Monday marked the seventh annual Orange Shirt Day and students and staff of Okanagan College’s Vernon campus donned their orange T-shirts in support.

Orange Shirt Day, started by Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem from Williams Lake. The national day of remembrance refers to one of her first memories at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in B.C.’s central Interior in the 1970s, when staff took away her orange shirt, bought especially for school, when she was six years old.

“The colour orange has always reminded me of that [incident] and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” Webstad writes on the Orange Shirt Day website. “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Her story has inspired many across the country and around the world to talk about the realities of residential schools and the wider historical marginalization of Indigenous peoples.

Thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their homes and forced to attend residential schools. The last one closed in 1996.

“On this day of Sept. 30, we call upon humanity to listen with open ears to the stories of survivors and their families and to remember those that didn’t make it,” the Okanagan College post read.

This year’s Orange Shirt Day will also celebrate Bill C-369, a federal bill awaiting a second vote in the Senate to make Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. If passed, the last day of September will be a statutory holiday.

“It’s the truth of the history of Canada,” Webstad said of residential schools. “It’s not just First Nation history, this is Canadian history. And Canadians that live in this country need to be aware of this dark past.”

READ MORE: Orange Shirt Day sheds light on dark history of Canada’s residential schools

READ MORE: Names of children who died in residential schools to be released


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— with files from Ashley Wadhwani