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                                                                                                             Orange Shirt Day

This  Sunday (Sept 26, 2021 ), as we gather in Zoom Church we will be engaging in a worship time acknowledging Orange Shirt Day, which began in 2013 as a result of residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad discussing her experience when she arrived at a residential school. Webstad shared her story at a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada, in the spring of 2013. Here is Phyllis’s story in her own words,

“I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! 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 was 13.8 years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born. Because my grandmother and mother both attended residential school for 10 years each, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like. With the help of my aunt, Agness Jack, I was able to raise my son and have him know me as his mother.

I went to a treatment centre for healing when I was 27 and have been on this healing journey since then. 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.”

…Thus Orange Shirt Day was born

The date of September 30 was chosen for the annual event because it is the time of year in which Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to residential schools. The event is similar to "Pink Shirt Day” which is an annual anti-bullying day which many school groups participate in.

In addition to simply wearing an orange shirt on September 30, this annual event encourages Canadians to learn about the history of residential schools. Many communities have held memorial walks, film screenings, and public lectures to raise awareness about Indigenous history.  Additionally, school boards across Canada have begun to use this event to teach children about residential schools.  

The truth of our history and the legacy of the residential school systems and all that comes with that is extremely challenging and difficult to understand and to face head on. But face it head on we must.

As we gather for zoom church this week acknowledging Orange Shirt Day my hope is that our awareness and response will deepen as we listen carefully to Phyllis’s story, learning more of the Truth and Reconciliation and Calls to Action, singing and praying together as a community of love. May we be reminded again of the wonder and mystery of the Creator, inviting us back again to truth seeking, healing, growing and becoming agents of change in the world as we live into the Gospel.

You are invited and encouraged to wear an orange shirt to Zoom Church this coming Sunday that we might witness to the Creator and the world our kin-ship, sister/brotherhood with all people and all of God’s creation.

Rev. Ray Aldred, Director of the Indigenous Studies Centre at the Vancouver School of Theology, offers a reinterpretation of the understanding of repentance from his Cree perspective. He pleads for us to repent out of hope, rather than guilt and shame. He is trying to make peace with being Indigenous and Christian. I encourage you to listen to his sermon “Walking Together” offered at Redwood Park Church April 26, 2015, at http://redwoodparkchurch.podomatic.com

 In a nutshell, Aldred suggests that repentance for Indigenous peoples might mean:

  • a turning from illegitimate shame, self-contempt, and even self-hatred
  • a turning from replacement of Indigenous identity
  • embracing pain, which is where Jesus is
  • embracing God-given Indigenous Identity • taking responsibility to begin to heal the broken relationships in our lives, by the grace of God. And repentance for Canadians might mean:                                           
  • contrite turning from sin (a Cree understanding of sin is “falling out of balance”)
  • a shift from triumphalism •embracing a God-given Treaty identity • turning to heal the relationship with land                                                                      •deciding to take responsibility to honour treaties

Thank you Ray, for your insight and leadership, offering us a good place to begin again.

In 2018, the department of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism announced it was considering making a statutory holiday to honour the legacy of residential schools, and September 30 was one of the dates being considered. The Heritage Committee chose Orange Shirt Day, and it was submitted by Georgina Joilibos as a private member's bill to the House of Commons, where it passed on March 21, 2019; however, the bill failed to pass the Senate before the next election was called… imagine…. We have a long way to go. Spirit of life and love, guide us we pray.

In the name of right relations……….    PT. 

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