A procession of orange shirts could be seen travelling across South Port Alberni on Wednesday morning in honour of residential school survivors.
Staff at Teechuktl Mental Health organized an Orange Shirt Day event on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The event began with a small group walking from the Quu’asa office on Redford Street to the Friendship Centre, then to the Thunderbird Apartments. The walk was led by Kelly Sport, a member of Ditidaht First Nation and a survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School.
The walk ended at Harbour Quay, where people gathered to sing and dance.
“It’s great to be part of an event that does exactly what these schools tried to take away from us,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council vice-president Mariah Charleson on Wednesday.
The event followed COVID-19 restrictions, with participants wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.
Orange Shirt Day, which is recognized every Sept. 30, honours the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools and raises awareness in Canada about the residential school system and the impact it has had on Indigenous communities.
The annual event was inspired by the story of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder Phyllis Webstad, who attended St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School as a child. The colour orange is symbolic of the orange shirt her grandmother bought her for her first day of school. When Webstad arrived at school, she was stripped of all her clothing—including her orange shirt.
During their walk on Wednesday, organizers handed out orange bags to passsersby. The bags included an orange t-shirt, a cedar bough and a piece of devil’s club (for protection) and a copy of the story behind Orange Shirt Day.
“It’s all about spreading awareness and acknowledging a really important part of history,” said Charleson. “There’s good energy [inside the bags] that we want to share. Many of the people with us today are residential school survivors. We wanted to come here and share with people, uplift each other and spread awareness.”