It wasn’t just the city’s many leaves changing colors that were orange on Wednesday — so were hundreds of Cornwall residents wearing orange shirts in support of Orange Shirt Day.
The event, which took place throughout the country, was created in order to recognize the harm done to generations of children that had to live through the Indian Residential Schools. The wearing of the shirt commemorates all victims of the schools, survivors and those who perished within their walls.
“It’s so important that we recognize Orange Shirt Day,” said Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement. “As we plan for the future and continue to grow our relationship with our neighbours in Akwesasne, we must look back and recognize and learn from our painful history.”
The Orange Shirt Day campaign was established following the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, B.C., in 2013.
The Sept. 30 date was chosen because it marked the time of year when indigenous children were taken from their homes to residential schools.
The idea of wearing an orange stemmed from the story of Phyllis Webstad’s story. The woman, who is from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) attended the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in 1973-74, having barely turned six years old.
“We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school,” recounted Webstad’s on the Orange Shirt Day website. “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 Webstad arrived at the mission, she was stripped by staff and her clothes were taken away, never to be seen again.
“I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine,” Webstad said. “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.”
In order to recognize the day, both fountains at the Justice Building and Memorial Park were both lit with orange lights on Tuesday evening. In addition, the city erected a bright, orange banner at the Lamoureux Park clock tower.
“The CDSBEO is very proud to partner with the City of Cornwall to commemorate the survivors and victims of residential schools,” said Todd Lalonde, Chair of the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. “As a Catholic board, we are called upon to live and work in solidarity with Indigenous people.”
At the Upper Canada District School Board, the day represents a “chance for classrooms to have meaningful discussions about the harmful effects of residential schools and the legacy they have left behind,” board officials said on Wednesday.
In addition to wearing orange and having classroom discussions or activities, some classes participated in a half-day virtual event being hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
“In the (school board), we are committed to honouring truth and reconciliation and bringing awareness to why days like Orange Shirt Day matter,” said Gail Brant-Terry, the board’s principal of Indigenous education.
“Orange Shirt Day is one of the many ways we support and teach Indigenous education in our school district.”
— with files from Sabrina Bedford, Recorder & Times