In 1973 in Williams Lake B.C., a six-year-old girl named Phyllis Jack Webstad was given an orange shirt as a gift from her grandmother. This was a gift, given in celebration of her first day of school. Little did they know that just hours later that same school would steal not just her orange shirt, but her language, culture, family and so much more. Horrifically, stories just like this were happening all over Canada, as the residential school system was designed to strip these children of everything they’ve ever known.
Now 48 years later, it is our responsibility as members of the CDS community to recognize everything the Indigenous people have gone through. That is why today, September 30th, and Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we wear orange shirts as a sign that we are not only acknowledging the past, but standing in support of and listening to residential school survivors and their families.
In support of Orange Shirt Day, the Social Justice team has been selling shirts and pins with proceeds going towards the Downie Wenjack Fund and the Woodland Cultural Centre. In addition, our two libraries have added a collection of books with stories of Indigenous communities in order to further our education on this topic.
We believe the best way to learn and educate ourselves is from those willing to share their stories. The simple act of listening to the stories of those willing to share them makes a powerful and lasting impact in better understanding and learning from this very disturbing part of our history. This morning, we raised the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Legacy School flag, as we have in previous years, to shine light on the history of residential schools in Canada. In recent years, CDS has worked hard to incorporate more Indigenous history and culture into the curriculum. Books like Indian Horse and The Secret Path have been assigned reading.
And in 2017, our Senior School drama students put forth four spectacular performances of our original theatrical production of Ahead by a Century inspired by the words and music of the late Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, and written and directed by the CDS cast and directing faculty. CDS is proud to share that other Canadian schools are now producing this play (in whole or in part) in recognition of Orange Shirt Day.
Last week, the Grade 9 math students participated in a seminar on the use of traditional Indigenous mathematics. It has also been discussed in history and world cultures classes. By adapting the curriculum, CDS has taken the first step towards raising awareness and we plan to continue on this journey of truth and reconciliation moving forward.
Student contributors Cindy Ma ’22 and Madelyn McCarthy ’24