Community members reflect on the recognition of Canada’s residential school survivors
“Every child matters, not just white, privileged children, not just children that are from good homes. Every child matters and that includes Indigenous children,” said Patty Musgrave, Mount Allison’s Indigenous affairs coordinator. This past Thursday, students, faculty and staff across campus wore orange T-shirts to recognize the trauma experienced by generations of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.
Orange Shirt Day originated on the west coast of Canada and has moved to the east in the past few years. The annual event began because of Phyllis Webstad’s story. When she was a young girl, she was forced to attend a residential school and her parents had no choice but to send her. Webstad’s mother gave her an orange shirt to wear on her first day of school, but when she arrived school administrators ripped it off of her and burned it.
Now Orange Shirt Day takes place annually to honour residential school survivors like Webstad, as well as the children who did not survive. Musgrave said it is for the children “who lost their language, their culture and who were physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abused everyday.”
Residential schools were created by the Canadian government and the Church to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples into the new colonial structure. They wanted to “take the Indian out of the child,” Musgrave said. “At the school the boys had to do physical labour, working on the land, building fences. Sometimes they had farms, so they might have been doing farm work and the girls often were peeling potatoes, preparing food for the priests and teachers and nuns who ate from really good dishes and sat in a really nice environment while the children sat in another room and ate slop pretty much – rotten potatoes, rotten vegetables, rancid meat.”
“Not everyone knows what residential schools are and the impact they had on Indigenous culture,” said Kiara Bubar, the president of Mount Allison’s Indigenous Student Support Group. She hopes that what students take away from this event is a greater understanding and knowledge of what happened in residential schools and how they affected generations of people.
“Intergenerational trauma is very much present,” said Musgrave. Children were taken away for years and they lost their language and therefore the ability to communicate with their parents about what happened to them when they finally did come home. “Mothers lost the opportunity to nurture them, to be their moms, and children lost any nursing, affection and bonding they would have normally had,” Musgrave added.
“The last school wasn’t shut down until the ’90s,” said Bubar. “It’s not so far back in history.”
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “An estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools.” The Canadian Encyclopedia also estimates that about 6,000 students died while attending the schools, though the exact number is unknown due to incomplete records.
“I think that [the healing process] is coming along, but it’s intergenerational trauma that’s going to be there forever,” said Musgrave.
“As students, staff and faculty, I think it’s so easy to forget that it happened or forget that we’re in a process of reconciliation until we have to read a territorial acknowledgement or something’s happening that’s Indigenous-related ,” Musgrave continued. “So this is one more thing we can add to our list of things that we’re doing to promote reconciliation on campus and to keep the calls to action alive in people’s minds.”
“Indigenous people are such a large part here at Mount Allison and I feel that we should do whatever we can to show our support for them,” said Dylan Rhyno, a first-year PPE student on why he chose to wear an orange shirt.
Bubar said she was happy with how many people participated: “Walking into my first class I saw other students and even professors wearing orange shirts and that was really good to see.”
The money raised by selling shirts will go towards Mt. A’s second annual Powwow, happening on Oct. 18. The event will be a celebration of local Indigenous culture and a way to acknowledge the land that the school is on. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Despite the traumas in their past, Musgrave wants people to understand that Indigenous people come from a beautiful place where they have pride in themselves and in their families.