Orange Shirt Day Remembers and Honours Residential School Survivors

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Orange Shirt Day gets walking in Thunder Bay.
Orange Shirt Day gets walking in Thunder Bay. in 2015

Over Two Hundred Joined in Orange Shirt Day Walk

THUNDER BAY – The third Orange Shirt Day in Thunder Bay to recognize the survivors and remember those who never made it home from Residential Schools continues to get bigger each year. This year almost two hundred people attended the walk. “Orange Shirt Day is gaining momentum across the country and it is encouraging to see our community come together to promote awareness of this shameful chapter of our shared history and to reconfirm a commitment to move forward together in the spirit of reconciliation,” said Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum. “The orange shirts we wear today are a symbol of a symbol of solidarity and support for all Residential School survivors, and this walk remembers all of the lost children who didn’t make it back to their families and communities.”

The walk started at Thunder Bay City Hall with messages from Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins, Mayor Keith Hobbs, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Betty Ann Achneepineskum.

Participants walked from City Hall to the former site of the St. Joseph’s Indian Boarding School, the current location of Pope John Paul II Elementary School, where a traditional ceremony and blessing was held on the school grounds where a monument is planned for the future. A draft conceptual drawing of the proposed monument was also unveiled.

There are six documented cases of First Nations children who died while attending the St. Joseph’s school and 16 children are still unaccounted for.

“Many people probably don’t realize that an Indian Residential School operated right here in Thunder Bay and that many First Nations children who attended the St. Joseph’s school are still unaccounted for – some died, and other just disappeared,” said Achneepineskum. “The Residential School experience is a painful but an important part of Thunder Bay history and we are thankful for the opportunity to educate and share this day with school officials and students from Pope John Paul II Elementary School.”

Now an annual event, Orange Shirt Day is named for Phyllis (Jack) Webstad whose new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year-old girl on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia. At least 4,000 children died in the more than 150 Residential Schools that operated across Canada for 150 years. Approximately 5,000 NAN members attended Residential Schools.

The St. Joseph’s Indian Boarding School (Fort William Indian Residential School) was affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie. It was first established as the Orphan Asylum of Fort William in 1870 on the Fort William Indian Reserve but was destroyed by fire in 1895. It was rebuilt as an Indian Boarding School and eventually relocated and combined with an orphanage on Franklin Street in Fort William in 1907. It operated as a Residential School from 1936-1964 and was demolished in 1966.

In September 2013, NAN launched the Residential School Curriculum, an innovative program designed to educate youth on the history and impacts of the Residential School System including the history, lesson plans for Grades 9-12, and Survivor Stories in the words of NAN First Nation members who attended Residential Schools.