Today, September 30, marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day has been set apart as a day to honour the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and their communities. The creation of this federal statutory holiday is an important step in the reconciliation process through recognizing the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools.
For a number of years, since 2013, September 30 has been known unofficially as Orange Shirt Day. This Indigenous-led grassroots movement honours the children who survived the residential schools and remembers those who did not. The orange shirt symbol comes from one Survivor’s story, Phyllis Websted, who recalled the day, in 1973, when she entered the residential school. She was just six years old proudly wearing her brand-new shiny orange shirt, especially purchased for her by her grandmother. The shirt was stripped away from her by school officials when she arrived and she never saw it again. Her poignant description of that moment and the feeling of not mattering as a child spurred the creation of the Orange Shirt Society. Now each September across Canada people wear orange to raise awareness of the tragic legacy of residential schools, to honour the thousands of Survivors and affirm that “Every Child Matters”.
To mark this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Westfield staff and volunteers have stitched together a block quilt top in a range of orange fabrics. The idea for this came from our own reflections on Truth and Reconciliation Day and honouring Orange Shirt Day. We want to gather not only to reflect and learn, but to express that Every Child Matters in a very tangible way.
To complete the quilt, we are using ties to bind the three layers together to form a blanket. Each tie is an expression that “Every Child Matters”, and when it is complete, there will be hundreds of ties to help form a blanket that will be strong and lasting.
A blanket is a warm embrace, a comfort, something that provides a feeling of safety and security. This quilt will be donated to the Native Women’s Centre in Hamilton, an important organization that provides emergency services for women and children in our community. It is our hope that the person who receives this blanket and rubs their hands over its many soft yarn ties will know that so many were thinking, listening and acknowledging that they matter.
There’s more that we can do on this day and the many days after. We are going to continue to learn and have conversations. If you too would like to learn more about the history of residential schools and Survivors’ stories a great resource to check out is www.woodlandculturalcentre.ca Visit www.orangshirtday.org for more information about the Society as well as activities for school aged children. To learn more about the work being done at the Native Women’s Centre visit www.nativewomenscentre.com.