Sept. 25, 2019

History of residential schools brought to light with survivor’s legacy

Orange Shirt Day welcomes stories to campus
Reg Crowshoe
Dr. Reg Crowshoe, UCalgary's Traditional Knowledge Keeper in Residence. Riley Brandt

As students head back to school in September, it’s easy to see education as a pillar of support and progress, but there is a complex history of oppression and indoctrination when it comes to Indigenous education in Canada, especially in the case of residential schools.

From 1831 to 1996, the Government of Canada and Christian churches established residential schools to educate and convert Indigenous children, assimilating them into Euro-Canadian society. The schools disrupted cultures, lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous Peoples.

After the last residential school closed in 1996, former students demanded recognition and restitution, resulting in the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008.

“Residential schools were acts of imposed oppression," says Michael Hart, UCalgary’s vice-provost (Indigenous engagement). "By understanding these relational experiences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples we will be better positioned to find ways forward that are respectful and supportive all people’s journeys.”

Every child matters

To reflect and learn about the difficult history of residential schools, the Office of Indigenous Engagement will present an Orange Shirt Day event on Sept. 30.

Orange Shirt Day was established in 2013 when a residential school survivor in British Columbia, Phyllis Webstad, shared her experience of going to one of these schools. She remembers that her grandmother bought her a brand-new orange shirt to wear on her first day of school. But at the school, all of her belongings were taken away, including her special orange shirt. Wearing an orange shirt on Sept. 30 keeps her story and stories of all survivors alive.

“The event will be an opportunity for our team and the UCalgary community to acknowledge the legacy of residential schools and the intergenerational trauma we’re still addressing,” says event organizer Pamela Beebe, the Office of Indigenous Engagement’s cultural education and protocol specialist.

UCalgary is just one of many schools and community organizations across the country that are taking part in the conversation. UCalgary’s event will include a presentation from Reg Crowshoe, UCalgary’s Traditional Knowledge Keeper in Residence (pictured above), who will share his childhood experience in residential school.

Beebe’s hope is that Orange Shirt Day will promote anti-bullying and anti-racism as we move into another school year. “We use this day to recognize all Indigenous people and the barriers they face, and to talk about how can we work together to bring more Indigenous voices to our campus,” she says.

Register for Orange Shirt Day at UCalgary on Sept. 30, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Blue Room, Dining Centre. All are welcome.

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization. Stay in touch with ii’ taa’poh’to’p’s activities and learn more about opportunities for Indigenous education and development.