Like the children they represent, each orange pin is unique.
A symbol of the children who never came home from residential school, the tiny foam T-shirts serve to honour the memories of the youngsters who were lost, the survivors and the damage the schools left behind.
Lana Parenteau of the Delaware First Nation at Moraviantown and her granddaughter Sky began making the pins last year after the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were recovered from the Kamloops Residential School.
Kamloops was just the beginning and the Every Child Matters movement quickly gained ground as more burial sites were discovered. As of May 2022, there are 4,130 children registered that perished at residential schools in Canada.
Parenteau calls the orange pin effort “Takwihleew.” In the Lenape language, the word means to come together.
In preparation for National Truth and Reconciliation Day Sept. 30 – also called Orange Shirt Day – the pair was among a group gathered at the Community Shop in Chatham last week busily making pins to give away.
"It's grown a lot bigger this year," Parenteau said as she cut out shapes and glued feathers. "Just like everyone is in a different spot in their healing journey, there's no wrong way to make a pin."
Parenteau, who works as Chatham-Kent's Indigenous Peer Navigator, knows of what she speaks. Some of her family members were taken to residential schools and she herself was part of the 1960s scoop – cutting her off from her home and her heritage.
Sky Parenteau, a high school student, said awareness about the terrible legacy of residential schools is important, because "people really need to know what happened."
Pam Fulton of Walpole Island First Nation said the pins are a way to initiate conversation and begin healing.
"I pray that all those who were found can be identified," Fulton said. "Many families don't know what happened to their loved ones.
"Hopefully people can get closure. There's trauma that needs healing."
The idea of making the orange T-shirt pins is catching on. Lana Parenteau recently conducted a pin-making workshop with Enbridge employees in Calgary. People are also making them at a Montreal nursing home and there have been recent inquiries from New Brunswick as well.
"I'm hoping this spreads everywhere," the elder Parenteau said. "It's not to blame anyone – it's to work together to heal."
The Chatham-Kent Public Library also did its part to support National Truth and Reconciliation Day by offering pin kits at all 11 library branches. A commemorative walk was also held in Wallaceburg and a full slate of activities were undertaken at local schools.
A special gathering also took place at the Ska:Na Family Learning Centre on Sept. 30.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice