KEESEEKOOSE FIRST NATION — Orange Shirt Day, and its slogan “Every child matters,” were highlighted on Sept. 29 during a traditional mini powwow held at Keeseekoose Chiefs Education Centre.
Held the day prior to Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, colloquially known as Orange Shirt Day, it is a Canadian statutory holiday to recognize the legacy of the Canadian Indian residential school system.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was first established as an observance in 2013, as part of an effort to promote awareness and education of the residential school system and the impact it has had on Indigenous communities for over a century, says information regarding Orange Shirt Day. The impact of the residential school system has been recognized as a cultural genocide.
The use of an orange shirt as a symbol was inspired by the accounts of Phyllis Webstad, whose personal clothing, including a new orange shirt, was taken from her during her first day of residential schooling, and never returned, the information said. The orange shirt is thus used as a symbol of the forced assimilation of Indigenous children that the residential school system enforced.
The day was elevated to a statutory holiday by the Parliament of Canada in 2021, in light of the revelations of over 1,000 unmarked graves near former residential school sites, it said.
Robert Severight of Cote First Nation was the emcee for the powwow, which after an opening prayer, began with the grand entry led by Keeseekoose Chief Lee Kitchemonia.
At least two drum groups, the Crazy Bear group and Crow Singers, performed for the powwow after a tribute to First Nation veterans.
Powwow dancers and students and teachers from Kamsack Comprehensive Institute and Victoria School were welcomed by Crystal Whitehawk, the principal, who remarked that many of those attending were wearing orange T-shirts in recognition of Orange Shirt Day.
“Truth and reconciliation acknowledges what we went through, and the treatment we experienced,” Whitehawk said. “Today, we’re glad that Canada has started to acknowledge what our people went through.