School children across Red Deer donned orange shirts Friday for national Orange Shirt Day to raise awareness about Canada’s history of residential schools.
While Orange Shirt Day falls on Sunday this year, all the students and staff at Westpark Middle School wore orange and took part in activities to help build an understanding of Canada’s dark past.
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 when Phyllis Webstad shared her story of having her brand new orange shirt taken away from her on her first day at a residential school, and with it her identity.
Principal Dean Pasiuk said Orange Shirt Day allows students to share their experiences and show what they are capable of.
“They’re amazing because when you give kids targets, you give them dreams, they will achieve great things and that’s what we are seeing now.”
He added, “Ultimately it would be nice to get to a place where we don’t seek acceptance in our school, we choose to find understanding, which is far more powerful of a culture or different cultures we have in our school.”
Grade 7 student Alexa Peel said she loved participating in Orange Shirt Day because it is important to learn about what happened in the past.
“Every child matters,” she said.
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen attended the event. He called Westpark Middle School a leader in educating kids about residential school history and how to move forward as a community.
“It is pretty overwhelming, really, to see how the kids are leading a lot of the initiatives and to see the integration between the urban First Nation, Metis and Inuit population here in Red Deer and everybody making a contribution, not just to the programming and the teaching, but to the wonderful new school that will open in September just across the field.
“We all have a duty to learn about our past so that we can move more equitably to the present and future and so for our teachers and for our elders and for the kids to come together like this tells me that we are moving in the right direction.”