I would like to acknowledge that we gather on the traditional lands and territories of the Malahat Nation and Cowichan Tribes.
Friday is the 30th September and it marks the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, previously known as ‘Orange Shirt Day.’
It is a day when we are encouraged to wear orange as an annual, nationwide effort to recognize the wrongs of Canada’s Indian residential school system and to honour survivors.
For those unfamiliar with Canadian history, residential schools operated from the 1880s until 1996. Five such schools operated on Vancouver Island. These institutions attempted to assimilate Indigenous children into white Canadian culture by forcibly removing children from their families. Children were denied the freedom to speak their mother tongues or to embrace Indigenous cultures.
Around 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend the schools, with many of them subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Even though the schools are now closed, the intergenerational trauma of Residential Schools is present in Indigenous peoples’ lives and communities today.
In the past couple of years, ground-penetrating radar has revealed hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of residential schools. Only an hour away from here by road and ferry, the Penelakut Tribe found 160 unmarked graves, in the area in which the Kuper Island Residential School once operated.
Orange Shirt Day grew out of the story of a six-year-old First Nations girl, Phyllis Webstad, who had her shiny new orange shirt confiscated on her first day at St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School in 1973.
The month of September was chosen for this annual raising of awareness because it is the time of year historically in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools.
Canada still wrestles with its dark past of the residential school system – and it is important for us, here at Shawnigan, to know and to learn from local history.
So, on Friday, we invite you to wear some orange and spend time reading about the legacy of the Indian residential schools – a far cry from the ‘Compassion’, ‘Community’ and ‘Belonging’ that we understand at Shawnigan.
Let us take a moment to look beyond our safe and secure campus here at Shawnigan – and to reflect on this chapter of Canadian history and to remember the motto of Truth & Reconciliation Day.
‘Every Child Matters.’
Friday is an opportunity for First Peoples, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
Many First Nations tribes believe that we are gifted with three ears – the third being the heart. All of us gathered here this afternoon can contribute to reconciliation through listening with our hearts.
Our next hymn will be Renfrew’s (‘Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee’) – appropriate given their house colour is orange. We invite you to consider the message in the first verse, for, with a commitment to forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion, we can help to ‘Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away…’
By listening and acknowledging the dark despair of the past, we may hopefully begin to build relationships and communities that will continue to move us forward – move towards the ‘light of day’.
Richard D A Lamont
Head of School