After starting three years ago in British Columbia, Orange Shirt Day was held for the first time in Grande Prairie on Friday.
September 30th has been dubbed Orange Shirt Day after a BC woman named Phyllis Webstad recalled her first time at residential school. Her mother had bought her a brand new orange shirt and it was taken away from her.
Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine spoke at the ceremony at Revolution Place. He says it was an honour to be part of the ceremony in Grande Prairie and he sees a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to reconciliation in Canada.
“I remain optimistic about our future together as a country but we have to do things differently. We have to be more environmentally sensitive, the economy has to include indigenous people, Universities have to do better at inviting indigenous people as lecturers and professors.”
Fontaine explains that the conversation on residential schools is a missing chapter in Canada’s history. With the recent signing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Former Chief says the topic has come to the forefront.
“We can no longer ignore it. Canadians can no longer ignore this story. Our people are starting to fill our pages of this missing chapter.”
He adds that secondary education systems and Alberta schools have added curricula to teach native history which is a step in the right direction.
Although Fontaine thinks Canada is moving in the right direction, he is afraid of the word reconciliation may become a buzz word and overused.
“You hear it so often now. We’re in danger of losing the meaning of reconciliation because people just say it but they don’t know what it means to them. They don’t know what it means to their families. They don’t know what it means to the community. We have to think very carefully about reconciliation. It’s so multilayered. It can be a collective undertaking or it could be individually based. We have to give meaning to it.”
Along with the new recognition to September 30th, the afternoon also included the first official smudging ceremony in buildings around the city. This native ceremony can include burning sage or sweet grass to help cleanse the body.
Mayor Bill Given says in the recent past the city of Grande Prairie didn’t know how to add the ceremony but with the collaboration with Grande Prairie Circle of Aboriginal Services, the two entities came up with a policy. The ceremony will now be allowed to happen in Revolution Place and the Grande Prairie Museum.