To raise awareness for Orange Shirt Day, the Native Women’s Association of the NWT and Yellowknife Victim Services were stationed outside the Yellowknife post office until 1 p.m. Wednesday.
The organizations were giving away Orange Shirt Day pins and answering questions to honour the survivors of residential schools and recognize those that never came home.
“It’s important that people, the general society, is aware of the residential school system,” said Gail Cyr, a former human rights commission member and frequent volunteer with the Native Women’s Association.
“They figure there are about eight thousand kids that have passed away in the system and a lot of people in the Northwest Territories went into residential schools,” she said.
Orange Shirt Day started in 2013 when Phyllis Webstad spoke up about her residential school experience.
Webstad, who at the time lived with her grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve in B.C., went to a “mission” school for one year in 1973. Before she went to her first day of school, six year-old Webstad was allowed to choose a new outfit, despite their family not having a lot of money. Webstad chose a shiny orange shirt.
When she got to school, Webstad had her clothes taken from her and was never able to wear the shirt again. On the Orange Shirt Day website, She said “the colour orange has always reminded me of that, and how my feelings didn’t matter.”
Now wearing orange on Sept. 30 promotes the concept that every child matters.
Among those in attendance, was Yellowknife RCMP staff Sgt. Yannick Hamel.
On the importance of RCMP showing their support for the event, victim services co-ordinator Trish Bullis said she was “really happy that he came by.”
She said Victim Services and the RCMP work “hand in hand every day.”
“If we do have any kind of awareness or intervention, or whatever we do, they’re usually right behind us 100 per cent.”
Considering the RCMP’s colonial history, Bullis said the officer’s presence “is a really nice example.”
NWT RCMP spokesperson Julie Plourde, said the NWT RCMP, like all divisions across the country, “have been encouraging their employees to wear an orange shirt on Sept. 30, to remember Indigenous children who were sent away to Residential Schools.”
“The employees are invited to take this day to reflect on the past and work towards reconciliation, and the RCMP support this campaign,” she said.
Residential schools, while taught in history classes, are still a recent memory for many Canadians. The schools ran for over 100 years with the last federally operated facility closing its doors less than 30 years ago in 1996.
Cyr’s mother was a student at that school on Gordon’s Reserve. “It’s important that we remember the people and their pain and everything that they went through,” she said.