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Orange Shirt Day at PDCI
Orange Shirt Day at PDCI
Posted on 10/04/2016

PDCI Student Encourages Peers to Celebrate Their First Nations Heritage on Orange Shirt Day

(Perth) – While acknowledging it as a sombre day of remembrance, Brandon Cordy used Orange Shirt Day to inspire students to celebrate their First Nations heritage.

Cordy along with other students at Perth and District Collegiate Institute (PDCI) hosted two Orange Shirt Day assemblies Friday in the school auditorium. He used the assemblies to educate PDCI students on the negative impact residential schools had on Canada’s First Nations peoples. He also encouraged those of First Nations heritage to celebrate it by self-identifying. Students who did so received bright orange shirts bearing Woodlands art to be worn as a symbol of pride in that heritage.

“I wanted to make something positive out of this,” he said.

Orange Shirt Day is held each year on September 30. The campaign encourages people to wear orange shirts in recognition of the harm caused to First Nations people by the residential school system. The campaign was started in Williams Lake, British Columbia in the spring of 2013. It grew from the story of Phyllis Webstad who as a child entered a residential school outside of Williams Lake. She wore a cherished orange shirt given to her by her grandmother, which was promptly confiscated, before school staff forced her to wear a school uniform. The orange shirt has become a symbol of the damage residential schools have wrought on First Nations culture.

Cordy, who comes from Mohawk and Sioux heritage, told students it was important to remember the residential schools so their dark history is never forgotten.

“The residential school system was an attempt by the Canadian government to assimilate the First Nations people - to make them fit into (mainstream) society,” said Cordy in an interview. “That didn’t work so well. In reality, the residential schools were horrible places where there was emotional abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse and even reported deaths.

“We need to raise awareness among people today about what happened so history doesn’t repeat itself. We don’t want (government) people to ever have that kind of arrogance again.”

The teen said many of the social problems experienced in First Nations society can be linked to abuse First Nations people suffered while living at residential schools.

The teenager added that racist attitudes still exist in society and he used the assembly to inform students about what First Nations people have experienced. He showed both assemblies a video called Coming to Terms about the negative experience of First Nations people in Thunder Bay.

The assemblies resulted in 21 students with First Nations heritage self-identifying. The senior is trying to revitalize an FNMI Club at the school and has invited newly self-identified students to join. He also hopes to organize a series of assemblies at PDCI in which invited speakers can discuss issues important to them.

Students attending the assembly said it was informative.

“I think there was a really big problem with racism (towards First Nations people),” said Ewan Jordan, a Grade 8 student. “I didn’t know it was a problem. It will make me think differently about stereotypes.”

Orange Shirt Day was celebrated at a number of elementary and secondary schools, with age appropriate discussions taking place across the board, including: St. Lawrence Secondary School, Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School, Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute and Athens District High School.

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