School Notes: Orange Shirt Day in St. Albert

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Orange Shirt Day

Students across St. Albert and Canada donned orange shirts Friday to raise awareness of Canada’s history with residential schools.

Sept. 30 is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. The event, organized in Alberta by the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities, aims to encourage meaningful discussion of the legacy of residential schools by having people wear orange shirts.

The event was inspired by the experience of B.C. residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who, at age six, was stripped of the orange shirt she was wearing by school authorities on her first day of school in 1973. She first spoke in public about this experience at a residential school reunion event in Williams Lake, B.C., in 2013.

Home was hours away, Webstad said, and the school had electricity and shower heads, neither of which she had ever encountered on her reserve.

“(I was a) six-year-old, innocent, looking forward to going to school, crying and not realizing I could not go home,” she said.

“It was a traumatic experience.”

Orange Shirt Day is a time for students and adults alike to learn about these residential school experiences, said Shauna Faragini, the Orange Shirt Day organizer with Safe and Caring Schools.

“We want people to reach out, listen, learn and hear the stories and move forward with reconciliation.”

St. Albert city council donned official orange shirts earlier this month for the Orange Shirt Day proclamation, and Mayor Nolan Crouse said he planned to wear his again this weekend.

This is about giving Indigenous people a voice, Crouse said.

“The healing garden’s a statement. The orange shirt is a statement, and I think that when millions of people make a statement over time, the culture shifts.”

Sir George Simpson students have been having ongoing discussions about Indigenous history and will hold a walk next spring to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, said principal Pierre Rousseau. They’ll celebrate Orange Shirt Day Monday.

“It’s not simply wearing a shirt,” he said.

“We need to learn about this. We need to learn about what happened so we know what is to be forgiven.”

Many residential school survivors have never talked about their experience, and some never will, Webstad said. She encouraged people to listen with an open heart to survivors to give them a place to tell their stories.

“For me, when I see the little ones wearing the orange shirts, it gives me hope for my grandchildren’s future,” she said, as they’re learning about this history.

“It’ll be a different world from what I experienced.”

Lois Hole grand opening

City residents can get a free tour of St. Albert’s newest school Monday as Lois Hole School celebrates its grand opening.

Principal Kevin Jones invited all residents to come to 120 Everitt Dr. Monday to take part in the official opening of Lois E. Hole Elementary School.

In operation since Aug. 30, Lois Hole is the newest public school to open in St. Albert. It’s named after former garden guru and lieutenant governor Lois E. Hole.

The kids have all settled in and the school has really come to life, Jones said.

“It’s neat to see all the bikes out front.”

Monday’s opening ceremony will feature speeches by local dignitaries and members of the Hole family, a ribbon cutting and a plaque presentation, Jones said. Students will give the inaugural performance of the school’s song (a bilingual version of The Garden Song by John Denver) before leading guests on tours.

The ceremony starts at 1:30 p.m. Call the school at 780-460-0034 for details.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.