Algoma U Honours Residential School Survivors during Orange Shirt Day

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Approximately 40 people gathered at Algoma University’s Shingwauk Hall on Tuesday afternoon to take part in their third annual Orange Shirt Day.

Algoma University, previously a residential school from 1874-1970, was one of many places across Canada who recognized this day, which was started in BC in 2013 as a way to commemorate reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.

The idea of orange shirts comes from the story of former St. Joseph Mission Residential School  student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad about how her brand new, orange shirt was taken from her upon her arrival.

Shingwauk Residential School Centre Researcher/Curator Krista McCracken told SaultOnline she thinks this event is an important way to educate people about residential schools.

“I think as Canadians living in this country this is a really important piece of our history that everybody needs to know about if we’re thinking about the truth and reconciliation commission in Canada,”she said.

“One of their calls to action was around education and around teaching about residential schools, and today’s event is really a part of that education piece.”

“For us as Aboriginal people, and for former students and for the younger generation, we need to be aware that we are who we are and our work today is to help the world to understand what was done in this country, let them know what the true history of this country was and the roles of residential schools in it,” Shirley Horn, a former residential school student, said, speaking to SaultOnline, “because residential school didn’t only impact the former students that were there, it impacted whole communities, it impacted succeeding generations, right down to today’s generations.

“So we have to keep that uppermost in our minds, especially us as Aboriginal people because we have to know the work that we have to continue to do until there is a true understanding the role of truth and reconciliation. You can’t have reconciliation without truth, and the residential school is part of that truth.”

Horn said she thinks events like Orange Shirt Day are a good way to raise awareness about the history of residential schools in Canada.

“Hopefully our younger generation will pick that up and move ahead with it as well. Everything that we do to improve our message to Canada specifically, and to the world, is helpful. Not (just) one person can do it, but together we all can do it and make a better world for our future generations.”

Horn said it means everything to her that the same school she was once a residential student of can now be a place of healing.

“This place has a tremendous history (as a residential school), and to know that we can come to this building, be in these rooms and commemorate the past and the stories of our people is everything,” she said.

Horn said events like this are one step in the truth and reconciliation process, but that it still has a long way to go.

This year’s Orange Shirt Day also coincided with a ceremony in Gatineau, Que., where The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation revealed the names of 2,800 children who died in residential schools