Like many other schools across Canada, Chief Sunrise Education Centre on the Hay River Reserve will be observing Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30 – a time to remember and recognize the legacy of residential schools.
Deborah Reid, the principal of Chief Sunrise Education Centre, said Orange Shirt Day was previously informally observed at the school for K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN).
Last year, the staff at the school wore orange T-shirts with the slogan ‘Every Child Matters’ and they started to discuss the symbol of the orange shirt with older students.
“We did this in an informal way as residential school and the impact of residential schooling on a community like KFN can be a sensitive topic,” said Reid. “This year, we would like to move forward with a few more activities to help more of the students understand why every child matters and why we need to remember those who were taken away to go to school.”
The staff will again wear the special orange T-shirts on Sept. 30, and students will also be encouraged to wear orange shirts that they may have at home.
Students who don’t have an orange shirt will be given stickers – with the slogan ‘Every Child Matters’ – to place on whatever shirt they are wearing.
Reid said Orange Shirt Day will be approached in a respectful way.
“I’m really hoping that the students will understand the sensitivity around the topic, and will be able to be respectful and appreciate and be grateful for the fact that we have a school here on the K’atlodeeche First Nation’s reserve that is here for them,” she said. “They don’t have to go anywhere. They don’t have to go across the river, even…. They don’t have to be taken away from their homes. They can live at home with their own families.”
At one time, there was a residential school on what is now the Hay River Reserve.
Reid hopes to use various resources, including a song and art, from the Orange Shirt Day website to teach students about the meaning of the observance, which was created in 2013.
“And those kind of things really connect to the younger kids, who might not understand or are at that point where they can understand the terrible legacy that happened to maybe some people that they know, grandparents and so on, being forced to go to residential school and leaving their family,” she said.
There are about 40 students at Chief Sunrise Education Centre, which offers Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12.