Students from the Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School and Penticton Indian Band (PIB) elders and members joined staff at the Penticton Regional Hospital to celebrate Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 28.
“We are here today for history, because it is an event that started in 2013, but is being recognized in Penticton Hospital and in partnership with our community for the first time,” said a member of the hospital staff.
According to OrangeShirtDay.org, Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event. The story about the orange shirt relates to Phyllis Webstad and her experience attending the school in 1973.
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including (my) orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine,” said Webstad in a statement on OrangeShirtDay.org. “The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
Attendees of the Penticton event celebrating Orange Shirt Day heard firsthand accounts from band members who were forced to attend residential schools in their youth. Speakers noted the importance of empathy and understanding, as well as the need to value all children.
“We were children when we left for (the residential school), we had no idea what was there for us. Sometimes, while we think we left that school and all the stuff that came with it, it follows us around everyday,” said Grace Greyeyes. “I forgave those people when I was 60 years old, but I’ll never forget what they did to us.”
“I ask all of you people to think about the children that you have, that are free from those schools, that they can come and go as they choose. They can get the best education ever,” said Greyeyes. “When (Orange Shirt Day) says every child matters, that was us and every child after that, they matter.”
Because the last residential school in Canada only closed in 1996, audience members were reminded that survivors of these schools aren’t necessarily seniors.
It is significant that the hospital and staff took part in the event as there was a time First Nations people weren’t allowed access to the hospital and medical resources in Canada’s history. Some of the speakers explained that these schools left them with no trust for certain organizations due to their treatment.
“My grandfather was here when the hospital was to be built. I was born at home 76 years ago, because at that time we were not allowed in these hospitals,” said Hereditary Chief Adam Eneas. “After that, some of us didn’t come to the hospital because it was known as the place you came to die. That kept many of our people away until it was too late to be saved.”
“We welcome this opportunity now to be here and see this hospital being expanded, to better serve us. To see our people being recognized, to see them have special services provided for them in here,” said Eneas.
The students in attendance sang the traditional Okanagan song for the elders and other audience members. Other students from their school were uable to attend as they are away at hunting camp, something previous generations that attended the school were unable to participate in.
For more information about Orange Shirt Day, visit OrangeShirtDay.org.
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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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