UVic honours Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, 2019

- Barbara Todd Hager

Peter Underwood, UVic student and Office Coordinator, Native Student Union Office, wears the 2019 Orange Shirt Day t-shirt in the UVic community garden. Photo Credit: Barbara Todd Hager

For the third year, UVic will hold an Orange Shirt Day observation in the quad. The activities start outdoors at noon on Monday, Sept. 30 followed by a screening of the documentary Picking Up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket in First Peoples House at 1 p.m. Both events are free, and students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to take part.

Orange Shirt Day brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the spirit of reconciliation to honour Indian residential school survivors and their families. This commemorative event had its origins in 2013 at the St. Joseph’s Mission residential school reunion and has grown into a national movement that the Government of Canada is considering for a federal holiday.

At the St. Joseph’s Mission reunion, residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad told her story of having her new orange shirt taken away by teachers on her first day at residential school. It was never returned. She is one of 150,000 Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families and sent to church-run boarding schools between the 1870s and 1996.

Group photo taken from above of UVic staff and students wearing their orange shirts in 2018
Group photo of the 2018 staff and students wearing their Orange Shirt Day T-shirts.

This year’s activities at UVic include a territorial welcome and traditional drumming and singing by members of the Lekwungen community and a group photo near the fountain. Last year, more than 400 people wearing orange shirts took part in the photo, and the goal this year is to increase that number.

Carey Newman, UVic’s Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest, designed this year’s T-shirt: a feather made up of several multi-coloured smaller feathers. Newman, a renowned Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist, explains his choice of the pride rainbow in this year’s T-shirt art. “This is my way to be more inclusive of LGBTQ2S,” he says. “In a time when some parts of Canada are regressing from accepting and acknowledging all people for who they are, I think this is particularly important.”

Beneath the feather are the words ‘every child,’ which Newman adapted from the Orange Shirt Day phrase ‘every child matters.’ “When it comes to children, they are all of utmost importance, they are all sacred and so I simply wrote ‘every child,’” he explains.

Newman is the creator of the Witness Blanket, a 12-metre-long sculpture comprised of 600 objects and artifacts he collected from Indian residential schools across Canada. Now at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, the Witness Blanket was first unveiled at UVic in 2014. The making of the Witness Blanket is the subject of the documentary screening at 1 p.m. in the First Peoples House Ceremonial Hall. Newman and his father, acclaimed artist Victor Newman, along with Chancellor Shelagh Rogers, will discuss the film after the screening. Seating is limited for this part of the program.

T-shirts are on sale at the UVic bookstore for $20 with proceeds going to the UVic Elders Engagement Fund and the Witness Blanket Project. If you already have an orange T-shirt, consider making a donation of a similar amount to the Elders Engagement Fund, which goes to the Elders-in-residence program at UVic.

For more information visit the Orange Shirt Day website.


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Keywords: Orange Shirt Day

Publication: The Ring

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