Orange Shirt Day: In Honor and in Memory
Government-run residential schools for indigenous children came to an end twenty years ago, in ‘96. Their legacy, however, lives on.
While residential schools were terminated officially in ’96, the practice continues surreptitiously because of the realities of our economy: for example, northern towns and villages in Ontario haven’t got the resources to run high schools, and the young teenage population has to move to Thunder Bay to continue its education. Young people are still suffering the alienation of being away from their homes and families just like they did during the hundred and twenty years from 1880 – 1996.
The legacy lives on in the post-traumatic stress (PTS) being endured by the generation of people who are in their 40s now, and in the 2 generations before them who are still alive – your parents, your grandparents and your great-grandparents essentially. Urban aboriginal people from those generations really had no choice – they either gave up their kids or they ended up in jail and the kids ended up in the schools anyway. Families living outside the cities sometimes ran and lived as outlaws. The schools were terrible places, and living on the lam is fraught with agonies, great and small – a no-win situation in any scenario – the government held all the power.
When families have been broken apart, individuals suffer inconsolable pains and many people turn to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain. Solitary individuals fall victims to substance abuse and addictions. In an effort to quell the damaging effects that loneliness caused these people, a program of surrogate families was established.
This “foster-care” solution created new problems: youth rarely found stable support; host families added new abuses to the kids’ difficult lives. Splitting indigenous families in our current day and age is a legacy solution that arose from the model of residential schools. The integrity of indigenous families today is under the same stresses of disintegration that have plagued them since European settlers established a governing dominance on this land. European colonizers have inflicted their ideals and lifestyle choices in every inhabited corner of the planet, and this is the effect that it’s having in our country.
The suffering that government residential and day schools inflicted on 7 generations of indigenous peoples during the 120 years of their existence is going to take 7 generations to heal, according to Senator Murray Sinclair – and until the system changes, the healing will always be endangered. I was wondering why we still hear about residential school issues now, 20 years after the government publicly put an end to them and now I know: they didn’t kill the tradition, they just removed the formal governance: the assimilation and pressure still exist – that’s why this topic is still loud.
This is what I learned from visiting the table that Vanier’s Indigenous Circle (VIC) hosted in Jake’s Mall on Friday the 29th – the last workday before official “Orange Shirt Day” on the 30th. Marya Grant and Lisa Sparkes were generous in teaching me what I’m sharing with you now. Jacky Vallee was also present for a short time and has been generous in keeping the student newspaper informed on VIC events since I met him last semester. The VIC’s fourth member, David Piercey wasn’t able to attend the table at that time. A nicer group of people, you’ll have a hard time finding!
My comment regarding PTSD comes from something Marya mentioned, “a study I’ve heard about that proves that high stress and PTSD produce genetically transmitted ailments. In other words, the children of victims have actual, physiological, bodily imprints that are direct results of their parents suffering”. We’re in the 7th generation of this cycle now… 140 years (1880 – the present) of damage and counting. Lisa Sparkes offered Senator Sinclair’s observation of the law of equivalent decay: “7 generations of damage, 7 generations of healing.” You and I will not see the day when this pain has been settled.
Orange Shirt Day exists in honor of residential school survivors and in memory of those who did not.
From the Orange Short official website; http://www.orangeshirtday.org :
“Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis’ story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually.
The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It also gives teachers time to plan events that will include children, as we want to ensure that we are passing the story and learning on to the next generations.”
My thanks to the Vanier Indigenous Circle (VIC) for their time and hospitality. Kudos and props for their selflessness; when approached with the idea of adding photos of Circle members on our cover, they declined, making it clear that this story is about the movement and the day, and not about them or their group.
If you’d like to know more about the VIC, a good first step would be to drop into the “Student Life / Indigenous Circle” space, B-205 and say hello to Marya or visit the VIC’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/vanierindigenouscircle
No doubt you’ve seen Marya around the school… it’s hard to miss a friendly, smiling, cheerful woman with blue hair.
Jacky teaches Anthropology and Indigenous Studies; his office is up at D-565.
Lisa and David are the lab technicians for the Biology department.
The college website for the Indigenous Circle is: http://www.vaniercollege.qc.ca/indigenous
Written By: John Martzouco
John can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org