Every Child Matters. We Matter. I Matter.

Reflections on the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by Kinwa Bluesky

This week at UBC, I attended the Returning Home and Pathways to Reconciliation event held at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts.  With an audience adorned in Orange Shirts, we listened to Phyllis Webstad, a Survivor of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake and founder of Orange Shirt Day, share about her work in continuing to raise awareness about the detrimental more than a century-long legacy of the residential school system.  We were also privy to an advanced viewing of “Returning Home,” a 90-min Canadian Geographic documentary by award-winning filmmaker Sean Stiller, that intertwines the stories of Phyllis’ healing journey in the creation of the Orange Shirt Society and the dwindling decline of wild salmon.  The film premieres at the Vancouver International Film Festival this Saturday, October 2nd at 12:30pm.

This National Day for Truth and Reconciliation choose to take action in honouring those who attended residential schools, their families, and communities. Create meaningful discussion and reflection about the effects of these schools for your friends, families and children, at your kitchen tables, in your classrooms, and in your meetings. Choose to participate in community events - local or Zoom-wide.   

This day provides an opportunity for all Canadians to learn about and reflect on the legacy of residential schools as well as honour the Survivors, those we have lost, and all who are affected by the residential school experience.


Orange Shirt Day - Bluesky Clan Reflection

The Direct Action Call from Letter from a Birmingham Jail that Still Rings True

This weekend my 16-year-old daughter Kwaya’tsiiq’Kwe came to me, distraught and uncertain about how to fully understand the role of the 8 moderate clergymen in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail with the role of the administration of the state-sponsored residential school system by predominantly Christian Catholic churches. Indeed, a bit heady for Grade 11, and certainly for my Sunday afternoon.  

Together we sat and began by reading the lengthy-response aloud, recalling Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for Direct Action - “constructive, nonviolent tension for growth” - to force an end to unjust laws. In defying a state court’s injunction, leading a march of black protesters without a permit, and urging an Easter boycott of white-owned stores, he argued that the purpose of a direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation and ultimately lead to meaningful change.

Of course since 1963, over time, we certainly have seen how direct action has led to negotiations. By her age, I had already witnessed family and friends involved in the Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) by non-Kanyen'kehà:ka protesters, Quebec police, RCMP, and the Canadian Army.  

Ultimately, Kwaya’tsiiq’Kwe chose to liken the current Orange Shirt movement with the four-basic steps in a non-violent campaign, as described in this landmark document of the Civil Rights Movement:

    1. Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist;

    2. Negotiation;

    3. Self-purification; and, 

    4. Direct action.

Moving between these steps begins by understanding the injustices, negotiating the changes needed, doing the self-work needed to act with integrity and diplomacy (much like Michelle Obama’s famous catchphrase for exercising restraint, “When they go low, we go high”), and creating constructive non-violent action designed for growth.

In defending the timing of the march, Martin Luther King, Jr. ends his reasoning for taking action on “when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”  In Phyllis Webstad’s own words, she shares the reason for her own continued action, following the apprehension of her orange shirt: 

"The color 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... I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years.  Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter.  Even with all the work I’ve done!  I am honored to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories."

Today, I believe the recovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves within Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory, just weeks before the Third Reading in the House to Commons spurred the final passing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action number 80 to create a holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which seeks “to honour First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Survivors and their families and communities and to ensure that public commemoration of their history and the legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”


Final Reflection

 On Thursday, this week, this month and year, stand in support and solidarity of Survivors.  Participate in the many Truth and Reconciliation Marches occurring.  Here at UBC, on September 30, come to the Intergenerational March to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, which begins at 11:45 at the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre: https://apsc.ubc.ca/event/2021/save-date-national-day-truth-and-reconciliation

And yes, hopefully, all parade permits are in place!

In recalling Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter, her argued that in seeing the interrelatedness of all communities:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.  Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

I am reminded that on this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation - all Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples alike - are now similarly tied in a single garment, an Orange Shirt that seeks to recognize the harm the residential school system did to children's sense of self-esteem and well being, and as an affirmation of our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters.


Phyllis Webstad has published two books for younger children, the "Orange Shirt Story" and "Phyllis's Orange Shirt."

The Returning Home and Pathways to Reconciliation was presented by The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, The First Nations House of Learning, UBC Learning Circle, and the Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Health  The film “Returning Home” is set to tour the film festival circuit this fall, beginning with the Vancouver International Film Festival in October 2021.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation - Schedule for Educators (General Public and Recordings available): https://nctr.ca/education/trw/educator-schedule/

The Faculty of Education offers some insightful resources:  https://educ.ubc.ca/national-day-for-truth-and-reconciliation-2021/

6 Ways to Deepen Your Understanding of Indian Residential School History:  https://beyond.ubc.ca/understanding-of-residential-school-history/

Truth Before Reconciliation:  8 Ways to Identify and Confront Residential School Denialism: https://beyond.ubc.ca/8-ways-to-confront-residential-school-denialism/

Sacred and Strong: Upholding Our Matriarchal Roles - The Health and Wellness Journeys of BC First Nations Women and Girls, First Nations Health Authority - See https://www.fnha.ca/what-we-do/chief-medical-office/sacred-and-strong

Kinwa Bluesky is the Senior Manager, Indigenous Initiatives at HELP.