B.C. First Nations advocates condemn use of Orange Shirt Day movement by trucker convoy

A ceremonial flagged is raised as people attend the Xe xe Smun’ eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day Every Child Matters ceremony to honour victims of the Canadian Indian residential school system while at Centennial Square in Victoria, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

First Nations organizers of Orange Shirt Day are condemning efforts by at least one member of the trucker convoy protests to observe the statutory holiday on Feb. 11.

In a Facebook live video posted Thursday called, a protester urged the public to participate in Orange Shirt Day on Friday, as a “worldwide walkout at schools” takes place. The protester said a moment of silence would be observed at 2 p.m., timed with the walkout, for “Every Child Matters.”

“Orange Shirt Day tomorrow, we’re doing Every Child Matters tomorrow,” he said.

“Moment of silence at the main stage and everywhere else for the kids, it’s the worldwide walkout for the schools. Let’s go kids, let’s go. Get those masks off, you don’t need them.”

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Orange Shirt Day is observed on Sept. 30 to honour the children lost in Canada’s harrowing residential school system, along with those who survived, their families, and impacted communities.

It was founded in 2013 by Phyllis Webstad, a survivor of St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. whose new orange shirt was taken from her on her first day at the so-called school.

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Since then, the colour orange has symbolized the effects of residential schools and the critical importance of reconciliation.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is also observed on Sept. 30.

Click to play video: 'Ambassador Bridge in Windsor protests stretch into day 4'
Ambassador Bridge in Windsor protests stretch into day 4

“Orange Shirt Day with the phrase ‘Every Child Matters’ is a cause focusing on the importance of Truth and Reconciliation,” said Webstad in a Thursday news release, responding to the social media post.

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“With this in mind, the Orange Shirt Society does not endorse the recent announcement of Orange Shirt Day occurring on February 11 by protest organizers.”

In an interview, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars, a director of the Orange Shirt Society, said whether you’re for or against the convoy, its use of Orange Shirt Day is “disappointing.”

“Education around what Orange Shirt Day stands for doesn’t need to be co-mingled with political initiatives or aspirations by any means,” he said.

“It’s a day that Canadians can proudly wear their orange shirts and stand beside the survivors and really hold up and honour the healing journey that we are currently on in this country we call Canada.”

Last month, Williams Lake First Nation announced that 93 possible burial sites had been found in the first phase of its search of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School grounds.

The 93 possible burial sites are “reflections,” or anomalies detected by ground-penetrating radar. Excavation is required to confirm whether they are human remains.

Sellars said his community has seen an outpouring of love and support since then, and there should be “nothing political about healing in this country.”

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In the Facebook video, the protester referenced the news, claiming the First Nation discovered 95 kids “that have not been talked about.” The video was shared by the Facebook account of convoy protest supporter Pat King.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-800-721-0066) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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