Teaching our collective history is no longer the sole responsibility of educators or institutions. Today there are opportunities for all Canadians to enter the dialogue about sensitive and difficult subject matter.
Everyone remembers their first day of school. Phyllis Webstad, who lived with her grandmother at Dog Creek reserve in central British Columbia, has used her memory of that day to create a powerful platform to help us talk about one of the most difficult subjects we share as Canadians.
In her children’s book, The Orange Shirt Story, Webstad describes her residential school experience. She was sent to St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake, B. C., and, on her first day of school, she wore a shiny, new orange shirt.
Then six years old, she had chosen the bright and bold colour because it represented the promise and excitement of learning. However, when Webstad arrived at school her shirt was removed, never to be returned. And the clothing wasn’t the only thing taken from her that day — she also lost her sense of self.
Webstad is Northern Secwépemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation and has earned diplomas in business administration and accounting. But perhaps most notably, in 2013 she helped to found Orange Shirt Day to honour the experience of residential school survivors and their families.