September 30th, also known as Orange Shirt Day, holds immense importance for all of us as a day of reflection and learning. The history of this day is marked with suffering and promoting awareness can help us take one more step towards community building and cooperation.
Innovation Credit Union was honoured to invite all our members and employees to attend an enlightening virtual session by Phyllis Webstad, Founder of the Orange Shirt Day and Ambassador of the Orange Shirt Society.
“Orange Shirt Day is a day to have conversation about all aspects of Indian residential schools. It is a day to honour survivors and their families, and to remember those that did not make it,” says Ms. Webstad. “Sharing my story of how my orange shirt was taken from me is my way to encourage others to share their experiences, as well as helping me on my healing journey.”
Innovation is always committed to doing what is right. Responsible banking and a drive to create impact in our community are our guiding principles. Therefore, we hope that our attempt at spreading awareness and sharing such stories will help us all take one more step towards community building and cooperation.
Ms. Webstad is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) and a survivor of St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School. As the Ambassador of the Orange Shirt Society, she tours the country on a vital mission. She is a beacon of light, raising awareness about the impact of the residential school system. She has published multiple books: “The Orange Shirt Story" and "Phyllis's Orange Shirt" for younger children, “Beyond the Orange Shirt Story”, released recently, and she has also co-authored Orange Shirt Society’s book, “Orange Shirt Day”. She received the 2017 TRU Distinguished Alumni Award for her unprecedented impact on local, provincial, national, and international communities through her inspirational work and sharing of her story.
The Orange Shirt Society tagline ‘Every Child Matters’, and the name of the movement are personal and poignant to not only Ms. Webstad, but each one of us as they serve as a reminder of how abhorrent the discrimination against the Indigenous community was. When asked why she did not choose a more specific tagline aimed at Indigenous children, she stated that she did so because of how she felt as a child in a residential school. She believed that her feelings and life as a child did not hold any relevance. Children felt isolated, as if their lives and freedom were unimportant to adults. She stated that she never wanted another child to feel that way, and hence ‘Every Child Matters’.
Around 100 attendees actively listened to her share her emotional story. She spoke of her childhood and her fond experiences living with her grandmother on the Dog Creek Reserve. She reminisced of happy memories before she was sent to the nearby residential school, of her childhood spent fishing, camping, and spending time with her family at the Gang Ranch Bridge Churn Creek Protected Area.
She then recounted some of the horrifying experiences she had at the residential school, what it was like for her as a six-year-old in that environment, and the long-term impact of such residential school experiences. Children were made to live in deplorable conditions and conform to a certain set of rules that stripped them of their culture and identity. She comes from a family where four generations attended residential schools and the fact that these schools continued to run for so long is why it is so important to continue this discussion.
She then shared with the rapt audience how she took these experiences and courageously worked towards the wonderful story of how Orange Shirt Day started. She narrated the trials and tribulations it took to make it go viral and create the kind of impact that was needed for the healing to begin. The movement, divinely guided, continues to be a torch bearer towards ensuring that every child truly matters.
She also explained why September 30th was chosen as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in the session. September was the time of year when children were removed from their homes and placed in residential schools. She described how the day was extremely emotional and painful for many Indigenous families.
Moreover, she emphasised the importance of continuing the conversation so that no one forgets the suffering endured by Indigenous people because of racism and discrimination. Her struggle, her stories and the pictures touched the hearts of all those who attended the session.
Ms. Webstad’s story is truly inspirational, and she is nothing short of a fearless survivor who is doing her best to promote healing and growth. In the one-hour session, she made an impact on the audience with one member saying, “I just want to pass on my sincerest thanks to Phyllis for continuing to have these conversations and share such vulnerable pieces of her life. It means so much to us who are working on healing those intergenerational wounds and I am so grateful.” Another attendee wrote “I could have listened to her story for another hour! Great story telling, raw and honest, very impactful.”
Through this virtual session, we aim to promote the right conversations and to support survivors. At Innovation Credit Union, we are inspired to embrace innovation, create change, and foster growth every day. We recognize the long-term effects of the residential school system and give tribute to its survivors and their communities. Through such initiatives, we hope that the community continues to raise awareness and grow into a stronger, more aware, and sensitized society aimed at promoting equality and diversity.
In learning from her, we hope to affirm our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters equally. It was a pleasure listening to and learning from Ms. Webstad, and we thank her for taking the time and sharing her inspiring story. We all left richer in knowledge and experience.
To support Ms. Webstad and her ongoing work:
- You can buy one of her books.
- You can donate to the Orange Shirt Society
- You can donate to Phyllis’ Niagara Falls Orange Shirt Day Ceremony trip.