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2nd annual National Orange Shirt Day commemorates Indian residential school experience

09/30/2014 01:28 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
The second annual Orange Shirt Day is taking place across the country today. People from all walks of life are wearing orange shirts to remember the experiences of former students of Indian Residential Schools and to commit to ongoing reconciliation.

In Thunder Bay, an awareness walk took place starting at City Hall and ending at the former site of the St. Joseph's Indian Boarding School at the corner of Arthur and Franklin Streets.

Alvin Fiddler, Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), said the day stems from a story told by a former residential school student, Phyllis Webstad. On her first day of residential school, when she was a  six-year old, her brand new orange shirt —that had been bought by her grandmother — was taken away from her.

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Fiddler said the day is important because the Indian Residential School experience is a part of the history of the city and people should be aware of its existence.

'I don't think too many people in Thunder Bay know that of all the residential schools in Canada there was one here, right in the city of Thunder Bay and Fort William that operated for 56 years," he said.

Fiddler said NAN organized the walk and wearing orange, in partnership with the city of Thunder Bay and the Catholic School Board.

He said, "I think it's gaining momentum, It's not just here in Thunder Bay, it's right across the country and I think it's so great that more and more people are aware of this and supporting it." 

Fiddler said this awareness is part of the work that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done over the last few years. He said it is not just about healing but also about reconciliation for the whole country.

Fiddler said the walk also remembers those children who didn't come back.  

"I think we're all anxious to see the report that will be released by the TRC soon and the number of cases they've uncovered where kids have died or former students died in these schools."

He said  there are at least six documented cases where children died at the St. Joseph's Residential School and there are up to 16 that are unaccounted for.

Across the country, Fiddler added, thousands of kids may have died in these schools.

In a press release sent out yesterday, the Assembly of First Nations has asked all Canadians to join First Nations in wearing an orange shirt "in the spirit of healing and reconciliation".

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