Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day grew out of the work done by the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in May 2013. The commemoration project brought together former students and their families to commemorate the Residential School experience, to bear witness and honour the healing journey of Survivors and their families, and to commit to the process of Truth and Reconcilation.
Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a Survivor of St. Joseph's Mission, shared her story of being brought to the school when she was six years old:
"I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!
When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.
I was 13 years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born. Because my grandmother and mother both attended residential school for 10 years each, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like. With the help of my aunt, Agness Jack, I was able to raise my son and have him know me as his mother.
I went to a treatment centre for healing when I was 27 and have been on this healing journey since then. I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!
I am honored to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories."
Phyllis' story set the stage for Orange Shirts to serve as a reminder of the legacy of Residential Schools and the impacts and harm they inflicted on children, families, and communities. We wear orange to show that we acknowledge these harms, honour the Survivors of Residential Schools, and commit ourselves to meaningful and lasting Reconciliation.