When 11-year-old Haley Paetkau was in grade 3, she was surprised to learn that her school did not have an orange shirt day.
She asked her mother if she should talk about it.
“I was like, should I start this?” Can i do this? I feel like we are learning on the land of indigenous people, we should know why and honor the land on which we are learning.
Turns out she could.
For the third year in a row, Haley is hosting Orange Shirt Day at St. Michaels University School on Vancouver Island.
The annual event, which takes place on September 30, aims to help children understand the negative effects of the residential school system on Indigenous peoples.
Making the day part of her school calendar was important to Haley because she comes from a family of residential school survivors, including her father.
This means that they survived their experiences in schools. Unfortunately, for others, this was not always the case.
Haley and her father speaking at an Orange Shirt Day event in Victoria in 2018. Her father, Steve Sxwithul’txw, was forced to attend Kuper Island Residential School as a child. (Image submitted by Jean Paetkau)What were the residential schools?
Between 1831 and 1996, thousands of Indigenous children were abducted from their communities and sent to residential schools called residential schools.
Schools were funded by the Canadian government and run by Christian churches or provincial governments.
Schools tried to deprive children of their indigenous culture and they were not allowed to speak their own language.
Haley wears a sweater knitted by her grandmother who is a residential school survivor. Haley is a member of the Penelakut Tribe, a nation off the east coast of Vancouver Island. (Image submitted by Jean Paetkau)
Many children were abused in these schools, and about 6,000 children died because they were sick or starving.
The story of Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day was started in 2013 by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who attended residential school in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
This day is named after an experience she had on her first day of school when she was only six years old.
She arrived wearing a new orange shirt that her grandmother had bought her, but school staff took it off.
The event takes place on September 30 of each year because it is the day that many Indigenous children were forced to leave their homes.
People wear orange shirts to honor Phyllis Webstad and to raise awareness of what Residential Schools did to Indigenous people.
3 years of fundraising
Once Haley learned what her family members and other survivors went through, she wanted to make sure the other children knew what had happened as well.
“It has to be recognized, people have to learn what happened. They can’t just say, well, that was in the past, we can forget about it. Because the past is important.
After getting on board her school, Haley hosted her first Orange Sweater Day in Grade 4, raising $ 1,200 by selling hundreds of homemade bracelets she made with her family and friends.
In 2018, the money Haley raised from selling bracelets was used to buy books for the Penelakut Island Elementary School on Penelakut Island, British Columbia (Image submitted by Jean Paetkau)
In Grade 5, she raised $ 1,800 which was used to send students from Stz’uminus Community School in Ladysmith, BC, to a cultural exchange to learn more about First Nations tribes.
Although COVID-19 has complicated matters this year, Haley continues to fundraise by selling orange shirts at her school while practicing physical distancing.
She had already raised about $ 5,000 even before the day arrived.
This money will go to the Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh Community School in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
An “orange wave”
Haley said she really felt the impact of her efforts during the Orange Shirt Day events last year.
“I stood in front of the assembly in front of this orange wave, and it gave me the impression that people care and people raise awareness.
Last year, Haley was invited to hoist the Orange Shirt Day flag with her father at an Orange Shirt Day event in the city of Victoria. (Image submitted by Jean Paetkau)
Haley said that by helping other students understand the past, she hopes they can create a better future together.
“I hope they will learn from an indigenous perspective what happened and why it was not acceptable, and how we can change the present and try to create a better future.
When asked what Canadian children can do outside of Orange Shirt Day, Haley said it’s important to find ways to restore and promote Indigenous culture.
“I have always noticed that there was a lack of native language courses. I think there should be more because residential schools really took the language out; there are not many fluent speakers left. ”
Want to know more about the word native? Take a look below.