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St. Albert schools to rock out for Orange Shirt Day

Orange stones bear hard commitments for change
2809 OrangeShirt 2128 km
WATCH FOR ROCKS — Wild Rose teacher Amy Bautista (left) and student Ivy Desjarlais painted rocks orange during the lead-up to Orange Shirt Day 2022 to teach others about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. The rocks were later scattered throughout the school neighbourhood for residents to find. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert residents may spot some orange rocks on their streets this week as area students roll out some hefty reminders about truth and reconciliation.

Thousands of St. Albert and Sturgeon County students will mark Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this week by taking steps to teach themselves and others about Indigenous history in Canada.

Orange Shirt Day is a national day which calls on Canadians to come together to discuss the legacy of Canada’s residential school system in the spirit of reconciliation. It falls on Sept. 30 and coincides with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 

Municipal moves

St. Albert and Sturgeon County schools will be closed Friday for the National Day, as will the municipal offices of Alexander, Gibbons, Morinville, St. Albert, and Sturgeon County.

Morinville and Sturgeon County will hold a free National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event Sept. 28 in partnership with the Creating Hope Society of Alberta, said society cultural support worker Tanya Hogan. Guests will see a video on residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad (who was stripped of her orange shirt upon arrival at a residential school when she was six — a heartless act that decades later inspired her to start Orange Shirt Day). They will also get to enjoy soup and bannock, decorate and wear orange shirts, and embark on a memorial walk to honour those who never made it home from residential school. (At least 4,122 children died in Canada’s residential schools, reports the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.)

This event runs from 5 to 8 p.m. at Morinville’s Community Cultural Centre. Hogan said she hopes to see about 150 people come to this event.

The Creating Hope Society will host another a free event with bannock, speakers, and fancy dancers at the Gibbons Cultural Centre Sept. 29 from 6 to 8 p.m., Hogan said. The society will host speakers, a round dance, and a viewing of the film The Forgotten People in Fort Saskatchewan’s Shell Theatre on Sept. 30 starting at 5:30 p.m.

The City of St. Albert has not organized an Orange Shirt Day event but does have a display on it in the St. Albert Place lobby, spokesperson Cory Sinclair said in an email.

Students step up

St. Albert Public students will commemorate Orange Shirt Day this week in many different ways, spokesperson Paula Power said in an email. Bellerose students will lay flowers inside a 44-inch birch board panel to create a commemorative art piece, for example, while Paul Kane students will walk to the St. Albert Healing Garden. Others will speak with Indigenous elders and experts, raise teepees, play Indigenous drums, and write land acknowledgements.

Amy Bautista of Wild Rose and Heather Friedenthal of Sir Alexander Mackenzie (SAM) are leading a multi-school effort to scatter orange stones throughout St. Albert to mark Orange Shirt Day.

Students at Hillgrove, Ronald Harvey, SAM, and Wild Rose are painting stones orange this week, Bautista said. Each stone will sport a number from 1 to 94 and a QR code that, if scanned, will link to a website about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. Students will distribute these stones throughout St. Albert in the coming weeks in hopes people will find, scan, and learn from them.

“The goal is to make the Calls to Action tangible in our community, and make people aware that we can all play a part in reconciliation,” Bautista said.

Bautista said she got this “wishing well stone” idea from a blog post, and thought it was a tangible way for students to understand both the number and the weight behind the Calls to Action. She encourages anyone who finds one of these rocks to scan the QR code and call their local school to tell them what they have learned.

Beyond the shirt

The Calls to Action are a year-round commitment, and it’s important to act on them outside of Orange Shirt Day, said Billie-Jo Grant, an Indigenous education consultant with Greater St. Albert Catholic. To help, GSACRD has started hosting tea and bannock education nights for the general public (the next one is Oct. 24) and has released a free online 10-step guide on reconciliation (available at bit.ly/3DRGxfD).

The impacts of residential schools are still felt today in the form of intergenerational trauma and the many Indigenous children placed in foster care, Hogan said. She encourages Canadians to learn about the schools through Orange Shirt Day events and the University of Alberta’s free online Indigenous Canada course.

“It’s a part of Canada’s history,” she said.

Visit bit.ly/3UDMzGD for more on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: 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.
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