Indigenous Elders and community members, as well as the SUILC’s Skookum Lab Team, gathered at Kekinow Native Housing in Surrey for a special Orange Shirt Day Drum Circle this year. Orange Shirt Day emerged out of Phyllis Webstad’s account of her residential school experience in British Columbia. As a child, Phyllis was at first excited to go to school. She went shopping with her granny to pick out a new outfit for school. She chose a bright orange shirt. The shirt was taken away from her when she arrived at residential school. It was never returned to her.
Every year, September 30th has been declared Orange Shirt Day to recognize the harm caused by the Canadian residential school system and to reaffirm our commitment, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, to take action to address this legacy.
Indigenous Elders and community members sang songs and drummed together for the children that survived the residential school system, the children who did not make it home, their families, and communities.
One Elder wrote a reflection and shared how they experience the ongoing impacts of the residential school system in her family and community. Another Elder, Rose Heinel, closed the drum circle with a poem titled "The Circle” by an unknown author. Rose read the author's written words out loud to the group:
“My Grandmother told me that all things went in a circle. The sun, the moon, the earth, the waters, the breath of life are all round." “In the roundness,” she said, “lies wisdom, truth, love”, “In this lies power”.
The group stood in a circle and in the spirit of wisdom, truth, and love. With their voices and the sound of their drums, they honoured Indigenous children and their communities in Surrey and across Turtle Island.
In past years, we have commemorated Orange Shirt Day at Surrey City Hall with participation from city staff, students, and administrators from SFU Surrey Campus and Surrey Schools. This year due to Covid-19, we decided to do something smaller so that we could observe social distancing rules while still paying tribute to residential school survivors. Although we purposefully kept our numbers low, it was still very meaningful to everyone who participated.
Hopefully, next year we will once again be able to join in the hundreds and sing our songs of remembrance and honour!
Surrey is home to the largest urban Indigenous population in British Columbia. The SUILC is actively working to create a city in which Indigenous contributions to city life are valued, reconciliation is a priority, and every Indigenous person has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
With almost half of Surrey's Indigenous population under 25 years of age, the SUILC is taking action to make Surrey a great place for Indigenous children and youth! Click HERE for more information.