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Every Child Matters: Bemidji's 1st Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day

Acknowledging affects of residential schools on Indigenous communities

I remember…my grandma crying. I didn't understand why she was crying, but she was crying at this movie and I didn't understand it. I was probably like eight years old… I started recognizing these schools did exist and that my grandma, she was a residential school kid in the United States, and I didn't understand her pain, but I saw it in her eyes. – Val Steeprock

Bemidji recently held its first Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters event. Attendees recognized the significant impact residential boarding schools have had on Indigenous communities. They shared stories, celebrated lives, sent prayers, and raised hope.

I have family members that are boarding school survivors, including my father himself. And we've seen the trauma throughout the last decades…the impact that that has on our families within Indigenous country. We're carrying those traumas.... we need to learn how to heal and reconcile the past traumas and injustices that have faced and plagued Indigenous country …as these children's bodies continue to be discovered… It’s re-opening a wound… No school facility should have dead bodies in their land. – Joseph Oppegaard-Peltier III

History of Orange Shirt Day:
Phyllis Webstad's orange shirt was taken from her and never returned when she, a member of the Stswecem'cXgat'tem First Nation, started boarding school at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in British Columbia September 30, 1973. Since sharing her story, the orange shirt has become a symbol of the affects of residential school on Indigenous people. In an effort to promote awareness and education around the residential school system and its impact on Indigenous communities, Canada established Orange Shirt Day in 2013. Ceremonies commemorating Orange Shirt Day have taken place across Canada and the United States every fall in years since. The movement’s slogan “Every Child Matters” has taken on even more nuance and significance as authorities continue to discover children’s remains on residential school campuses.

Katie is our Area Voices producer.