NOTL wears orange for survivors and victims of residential schools

Niagara-on-the-Lake will be a touch more orange this Friday for National Truth and Reconcilliation Day as groups across town show their colours to raise awareness of the legacy of residential schools in Canada.

NOTL schools, the Niagara Regional Native Centre and Niagara Parks are among those working this week to raise awareness about the history of residential schools.

The founder of Orange Shirt Day, Phyllis Webstad, is staying in Niagara for two weeks and is scheduled to make a few stops across the region to share her story before returning to British Columbia.

With her remaining time, Webstad will be the guest of honour at the Niagara Regional Native Centre’s eighth annual Powwow on Saturday, Oct. 1, and a speaker at Niagara Parks Power Station Plaza on Sept. 30 for National Truth and Reconciliation Day.

"We felt that we were responsilbe, as per the the one dish one spoon agreement, to be welcoming as a territory," said Karl Dockstader, the director of the Niagara Regional Native Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Dockstader, paraphrasing Webstad, told The Lake Report that September was selected for Orange Shirt Day because people in her community used to cry that month because they were so afraid for their children.

"The visual sea of orange that we'll see in our territory" is very important, he said. "It means a lot."

The Niagara Parks Power Station will be hosting a concert Thursday at 6 p.m. Webstad will be speaking briefly there as well.

The concert, Treaty: A Reconciliation Revelry, has been directed and written by Tim Johnson, director of the Indigenous education initiative for Landscape of Nations 360°.

The performance will explore the contributions of Indigenous people to Canada and their struggle to be recognized for those contributions.

National Truth and Reconciliation Day will kick off Friday at 7 a.m. with a sunrise ceremony at Niagara Parks Power Station.

Webstad and many other survivors being hosted by friendship centres across Niagara will be sharing their stories after the ceremony.

In the evening, the Horseshoe Falls will be lit orange every 15 minutes in memory of the almost 150,000 children and families affected by residential schools.

Drummers and singers from the Niagara Regional Native Centre will be present throughout the evening.

Brian Kon, Indigenous education lead for the Niagara Catholic District School Board, is one of many making events like these possible.

He recalled the first year the falls were turned orange in honour of residential school survivors and victims.

“At that moment, everybody stopped,” Kon told The Lake Report at the Celebration of Nations earlier this month.

Kon’s photos of the falls were shared over 10,000 times. This was also how he met Webstad.

Speaking at Niagara College's NOTL campus on Sept. 22, Webstad explained how Orange Shirt Day came to be.

A teacher stole an orange shirt from her when she was six years old and attending St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C.

Webstad was given no explanation for the theft and the emotional trauma of it was ignored.

“They didn't listen. This was the beginning of that feeling like I didn’t matter,” Webstad said.

That incident also inspired the slogan of the movement, "Every child matters."

The college also has established a new scholarship program in Webstad’s name.

The new program recognizes the unprecedented work Webstad has done to raise awareness about residential schools.

“It was education that got us into this mess and education will get us out of it,” Webstad said, paraphrasing former senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The college has raised $41,000 for the scholarship so far, doubling its initial goal of $20,000.

At NOTL schools, students and teachers will wear orange in the classrooms this Friday while learning about Indigenous culture and the impact of residential schools.

At St. Michael Catholic Elementary School, Moses Lunham from the Anishnabek First Nation in Kettle and Stony Point, Ipperwash will be teaching virtual art lessons to students.

"We are honoured that he will be providing separate lessons for both our primary and junior/intermediate students," said principal Emma Fara Massi.

The school's Grade 5 students will also get the chance to learn in an "Open Circle of Learning."

The students will sit facing each other in a communal circle as they learn about the oral storytelling traditions and communal learning in indigenous communities.

Crossroads Public School has plans to integrate truth and reconciliation into the curriculum, but is trying to avoid making National Truth and Reconciliation Day a one-off event.

Students will still be wearing orange and their lessons will be centred around the theme of clean drinking water, an important issue on many reserves.

"I am reticent to do it on a large scale because I would prefer to ensure that we're being mindful of the students," principal Kate Fish said in an interview.

"We need to do it carefully and sensitively. And in order to do that, I feel like there needs to be dialogue," she added.

Crossroads acknowledges the land each morning with its students as part of its commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action.

At St. David's Public School, students will be focusing on "recognition and reflection," principal Carl Glauser told The Lake Report.

Each student will be cutting out an orange hand and writing something they learned on it. At the end of the day the orange hands will be added to the school's "Every Child Matters Tree."

"Students and staff will be wearing something orange on this day to recognize the harm that the residential school system did to Indigenous children," Glauser added.

Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report