WATCH: As schools across Vancouver Island mark Orange Shirt Day, we meet the woman that inspired the movement. April Lawrence reports.
Brenda Andrews led a gymnasium full of students at Macauley Elementary in a First Nations drumming song Friday morning to mark Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters.
“Wear your orange shirt for all the residential survivors and for those that didn’t survive we will always remember,” she told the students.
Andrew, a student assistant at Macauley, told the kids the story of a little girl who wore an orange shirt to her first day of residential school.
“The very day that she stepped into the classroom it was torn from her body and she never did see her orange shirt again,” she said.
While a difficult and horrific part of Canadian history, the lesson was getting through.
“It’s very sad and like all those kids got sent away didn’t even get to see their families again, not being able to speak their language, it’s very sad,” said grade five student Autumn Roberts.
And more than learning the lesson, many were feeling it.
“Sadness, it’s really sad that these children got [taken] away from their families,” said student Isla Cook.
“I don’t like it, it makes me uncomfortable because children should be with their families,” said student Cody Wright.
And few would be more touched to hear those students speak than the little girl in the orange shirt.
Phyllis Webstad was six when she started her first day of residential school wearing her brand new shiny orange shirt.
“Getting on the bus with all the other kids and getting there in pee your pants terror of what is happening,” she told a crowd at Camosun College.
Webstad started orange shirt day four years ago in B.C.’s Cariboo region but thanks to social media it’s now recognized province-wide.
“I never dreamed it would be what it is now,” she said.
Seeing students across the province learning about residential schools not just one day a year, but in their daily curriculum, gives Webstad incredible hope for the future.
“I have three grandsons they’re going to grow up with these children that are in those classrooms and it’s going to be a different life than I had ever hoped for,” she said.