‘To tackle the trauma of the past’: Orange Shirt Day in the NWT

Children attending K'àlemì Dene School are learning about the effects of residential schools and showing support for survivors by wearing orange shirts on Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy of Meagan Wowk)

In addition to wearing orange shirts on Wednesday, students attending K’àlemì Dene School are learning about the effects of residential schools.

Annie Casson is the program support teacher who organized the school’s Orange Shirt Day.

“We’re the community school of Ndilǫ, so it’s important for the school to be recognizing the legacy of residential schools and how that affects our students and our families,” she says.

Each classroom will hold different activities including movie assignments with discussions and writing assignments.

Learning about the past

“Yesterday, I had a hard day, because that trauma is still in me as a former student,” says Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya in a heartfelt speech on Wednesday.

Sept. 30 marks Orange Shirt Day, which started in 2013 as a way to honour and acknowledge former students and survivors of residential schools.

The orange shirt was chosen as a symbol based on a story told by Phyllis Jack Webstat, who is a survivor of a residential school in B.C.

Her story talked about a shiny, new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother that was taken away on her first day at residential school.

Yakeleya says he knows many people in Denendeh are dealing with the effects of the residential schools.

As a result, he is planning a residential school trauma training workshop, which he hopes to host in October.

“To tackle the trauma of the past, to deal with it in a healthy way,” he explains.

The workshop has been in the works for six months and will involve regional governments.

The plan is to bring 12 to 18 people together to teach them how to manage their trauma.

“So today I feel much better, but I also recognize the power of the residential school,” he says.

Trent and Kairo are students at K’àlemì Dene School who wore orange shirts on Sept. 30 to support residential school survivors. (Photo courtesy of Meagan Wowk)

Statutory holiday

Yakeleya also gave credit to the federal government for proposing to make Sept. 30 a statutory holiday, known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

This was proposed on Tuesday as part of Bill C-5 — one of the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Yakeleya says he hopes the Government of the Northwest Territories will follow suit and introduce a similar bill.

Premier Caroline Cochrane says in a previous email to CKLB, Orange Shirt Day is about respecting the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry to Justice.

“To make right the decades of colonial oppression against Indigenous people across Canada because of the residential school system,” she writes.

Cochrane says the future prosperity of the Northwest Territories depends everyone’s ability to advance reconciliation.

“In the Northwest Territories, most of us know someone who attended a residential school, and we have all felt the impact of the legacy it left, and will for generations to come,” she writes in a press release.


About the Author

Luke Carroll
Luke Carroll is a journalist originally from Brockville, Ont. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor in Ottawa, Halifax and New Brunswick. Luke is a graduate of Carleton University's bachelor of journalism program. If you have a story idea, feel free to send him an email at luke.carroll@cklbradio.com