Phyllis Jack Webstad was six years old when she left her community of Stswedcem’c Xgat’tem First Nation to attend St. Joseph Residential School. Like most six year olds, she was excited to attend school for the first time. Her grandmother bought her a new, bright orange shirt for her to wear on her first day. When she arrived at school, far from home, her new orange shirt was taken away from her and never returned. This marked the start of Phyllis’s separation from her community, culture, family and friends; a separation mandated by the federal government and supported by the church.
On September 30th, we wear orange to remember that Every Child Matters and as people of faith, we need to listen to stories like Phyllis’s and learn from the wisdom, reflection, trauma, as well as the strength and resiliency of those who were taken from their families and communities and forced to attend residential schools, some of whom never returned home again. As Christians, it is also our responsibility to make reparations for the ways in which we continue to uphold colonialism and benefit from the systemic racism in our institutions and societal structures. For the first time in 2021, September 30th is now a federal statutory holiday – the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, where people are encouraged to engage in learning, as well as listening and reflecting on the ongoing impact of the residential school system.
As September 30th approaches, here are some opportunities to consider:
- mark Orange Shirt Day in worship in your congregation on Sunday, September 26th by wearing orange and encouraging others to wear orange as well. Consider using the following litany written by Ron Flaming of the Truth and Reconciliation Action Group, Waterloo North Mennonite Church. We are grateful to Ron for allowing us to share this litany with our Synod. (see attached).
- The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has an entire weeklong series of online events being offered for youth and adults alike. These events run from September 27-October 1st.
- to listen to a CBC interview of Phyllis Jack Webstad, follow this link.
- to learn more about Phyllis Jack Webstad’s work and advocacy, click here.
- to purchase a copy of the book, Phyllis’s Orange Shirt, click here.
- to purchase an orange shirt from an approved retailer, click here
- on Wednesdays, the Woodland Cultural Centre offers a virtual tour of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. See their calendar of events for more information.
- Medicine Wheel Education offers authentic Indigenous educational tools and resources.
- document how you will mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by taking pictures (with permission) and posting to social media using the hashtags, #OrangeShirtDay; #EveryChildMatters; #IWearOrangeBecause, #EasternSynod, #MyELCIC
May God’s wisdom and understanding surround us as we continue to learn to walk in the ways of reconciliation, reparation and peace.
Abundant fall blessings to you,
The Eastern Synod Circle for Reconciliation and Justice