Image by Ivan Aleksic

They Are Not Coming Home!

Orange Shirt Day
Written by Brian Adams

 Forward

Truth and Reconciliation Day, also known colloquially as Orange Shirt Day was held for the first time on September 30th, 2021. Its official title, seemingly apathetic to its audience, simply stated is; Truth and Reconciliation Day can be described as a Canadian statutory holiday that recognizes the legacy of the Canadian Indian residential school system. Though it seems insensitive to call this somber day a statutory "holiday", in fact, it was the First Nation people that insisted on collaboration, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour  survivors, their families, those around them that were effected and ensure that the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process. and unsure this  tragic experiment  so it can never happen again 

As cold and insensitive as that official title sounds, in reality, the day represents something much more complex and nuanced. To just imagine that through the lens of a child's eye, the trauma, the collective memories, and the inevitable searching for truth and understanding can be distilled down to a single memory of an orange shirt is not only very dispiriting but also a remarkable feat for one person to endure. 

It was with complete disquietude and apprehension  I sat down to write this article. The only question I had for myself when it came to writing this article was, could I do such important subject matter justice? Then as I started my research and all that fell away like leaves on a windy fall day in Sept.,...my mind drifted as I read.

The more I read and become informed, the more my apprehensions faded, quickly being replaced by a profound sense of sadness.

Part One.
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Philis age 6

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Adult Philis

It all started with Philis.

In 1973, a six-year-old Philis Webstad was with her grandmother shopping for an outfit for her first day of school in British Columbia. She picked out an orange shirt as part of her fall outfit.

 For Philis a joyful nurturing experience was replaced by the cold hard realities of a government assimilation program as  Philis was stripped of her new outfit and orange shirt and was given a uniform.Philis found herself in a residential school and it would cause ureteral damage to herself and many many first nation children.

 Philis never saw that shirt again and that orange shirt always reminded her of her time at that residential school in British Columbia.

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The goal of Canada’s Indian residential school system, after all, shared that of its U.S. Indian boarding school counterpart: “Kill the Indian, and save the man.” More than 150,000 children were taken from their homes between 1883 and 1997, often forcibly, and placed in distant boarding schools where the focus was on manual labour, religious instruction and cultural assimilation. The TRC Final Report concluded that the Indian Residential School system was an attempted “cultural genocide,” but the escalating number of recovered unmarked graves points to something even darker. Given that more than 1,300 graves have been identified using ground-penetrating radar at only four of the 139 federally run residential schools, the current official number of 4,120 students known to have died in the schools will end up being only a fraction of the actual total. 

From Philis's story and her recollections of being made to feel like she and her many First Nation classmates' had no self-worth, Orange Shirt Day was forged into existence. from Philis Webstad's memories and how that orange shirt began to remind her of that terrible day in residential school and to tell the world and our First Nation children the exact opposite; that they are very worthy.

To understand Philis's story better you need to understand the Residential School Better. The ominous name helps to start to tell the story. Residential meaning being uprooted from your family, your community your unique culture and language to live at the school. This was a necessary step, separating the child from its support system

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Residential schools were church-run schools where more than 150,000 First Nations children were systematically taken and placed over a one-hundred and sixty-year period between the 1830s and the 1990s. 

The schools harmed First Nation children and by proxy generations to follow. By cruely and systematically removing them from their families, culture and support systems robbing them of the love and nurturing of a mother father community and culture forcing them to speak English or French instead own languages. This was all done to further their plans to assimilate First Nation people into Canadian society

Students were forbidden from speaking their Native languages, wearing traditional clothing, or practicing their way of life. They were forced to practice Christianity and leave behind their own spiritualities and customs. The goal of the boarding schools was to “eradicate all vestiges of Indian culture.” 

Students who did not conform -- or who simply slipped back into their Native tongue when speaking with friends -- were subject to abuse and neglect, oftentimes in conditions that would constitute as torture. Sexual abuse has also been uncovered at many of the schools. 

It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of Native children were taken from their homes and put into boarding schools against their will. In fact, by 1926 almost 83% of Native children were enrolled in boarding schools

The government has since acknowledged that this approach was wrong. This approach was cruel. and that this approach was it was ineffective. The Canadian Government offered an official apology to the First Nation people of Canada in 2008. 

 

May 2021: The Day That Changes Everything

For many people, the May 2021 discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School may have been the first they had ever heard about "Indian" Residential Schools. What can only be called atrocities that were committed at schools like Kamloops will forever leave a dark shadow and sadness across First Nations and Canadian communities alike

 As the discovery of the mass grave at Kamloops illustrated, many of those young people never returned home.  

Shockingly, these atrocities weren't happening in secret, but were part of the stated policy of the United States (and Canadian) government and were tacitly endorsed through the 1970's with the persistence of the Residential Schools.  

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What Can I Do

Listen to and believe survivors 

 When a woman shares her story of violence, she takes the first step to breaking the cycle of abuse. 

It’s on all of us to give her the safe space she needs to speak up and be heard. 

Remember that when discussing cases of sexual violence, a victim’s sobriety, clothes, and sexuality are irrelevant. 

Call out victim-blaming and counter the idea that it’s on women to avoid situations that might be seen as “dangerous” by traditional standards. 

Don’t say, “Why didn’t she leave?” 

Do say: “We hear you. We believe you. We stand with you.” 

Teach the next generation and learn from them 

The examples we set for the younger generation shape the way they think about gender, respect and human rights.  Point out the stereotypes that children constantly encounter, whether in the media, on the street or at school, and let them know that it’s OK to be different. Encourage a culture of acceptance. 

Talk about consent, and accountability to boys and girls, and also listen to what they have to say about their experience of the world. By empowering young advocates with information, and educating them about women’s rights, we can build a better future for all. 

 Call for responses and services fit for purpose 

Services for survivors are essential services. 

This means that shelters, hotlines, counselling and all support for survivors of gender-based violence need to be available for those in need, even during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Every year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign calls for united, global action to end all forms of violence against women and girls. 

Understand consent 

Freely given, enthusiastic consent is mandatory, every time. 

Rather than listening for a “no,” make sure there is an active “yes,” from all involved. Adopt enthusiastic consent in your life and talk about it. 

Phrases like “she was asking for it” or “boys will be boys” attempt to blur the lines around sexual consent, placing blame on victims, and excusing perpetrators from the crimes they have committed. 

While those that use these lines may have fuzzy understandings of consent, the definition is crystal clear. When it comes to consent, there are no blurred lines. 

Learn the signs of abuse and how you can help 

There are many forms of abuse and all of them can have serious physical and emotional effects. If you’re concerned about a friend who may be experiencing violence or feels unsafe around someone, review these signs and learn about the ways to help them find safety and support. 

If you think someone is abusing you, help is available. You are not alone. If you’d like to talk with a trained advocate at a helpline, we compiled this list of resources around the world. 

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Role Models

It's important in any culture or community to have role models. Showcase First Nation Artist

Canada

Domestic Violence;
What Is Being Done

Canada among countries with lowest rates of domestic violence. “While Canada is among the top 30 countries with the lowest rates of intimate partner violence, it's still a problem that affects 1 in 25 women,” notes Professor Maheu-Giroux.Mar 29, 2022 

In 2020, COVID-19 touched our lives in nearly every way, everywhere, as countries went into lockdown and restricted movement to contain the spread of the virus. As doors closed and isolation began, reports of all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, began to rise. 

The pandemic of violence against women is not new. Even before COVID-19 hit us, globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the violence, even as support services faltered and accessing help became harder.