Orange clothing dotted the halls of Green Valley School in Grunthal on Monday as students participated in Orange Shirt Day or "Every Child Matters".
As Grade 12 teacher Katie Martin explains, the annual nation-wide event is a reference to an indigenous girl named Phyllis Webstad. Webstad’s favorite orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother, was confiscated on her first day at a residential school in 1973 where she was forced to wear a uniform. Since 2013, wearing orange on September 30th has come to represent indigenous truth and reconciliation.
In Green Valley School, the tradition of wearing orange is still fairly new, but Martin says the staff recognizes its power.
“We have a growing indigenous population in our school and we want to make that culture a part of what we do in our building.”
Martin says she helped her student council make promotional videos encouraging people to wear orange, and also put together a video presenting teachers’ thoughts on the matter.
“We talked about the idea of learning and becoming more aware,” shares Martin, “one teacher mentioned how she had lived a privileged life and that wearing orange was one thing she could do to acknowledge the struggle that other cultures have gone through.”
Martin notes that coming to terms with the atrocities of residential schools and then moving past them is a learning process; a process Green Valley School wants to facilitate.
For Martin and many of her fellow staff, acknowledging the residential school tragedy once a year by wearing orange was not enough. A small group of teachers last year formed a committee with the intention of diving deeper into indigenous topics and weaving them throughout the grade 5 to 12 curriculum, thereby increasing understanding and empathy among students.
“For example, I teach Language Arts, and I have been bringing in indigenous authors and just finding more ways of including that culture.”
Despite these additional efforts, Martin admits that Orange Shirt Day is still a punchy way of spreading awareness. Now, she is already working with student council to have the entire student body clad in orange for the same occasion next year.