It was a day to be decked out in Orange across Saskatoon on Friday as businesses and schools across the country celebrated Orange Shirt Day, a day to honour residential school survivors.
Sept. 30 is the official Orange Shirt Day, but since it lands on a Sunday this year, thousands of people across the city celebrated the day ahead of the weekend.
The Orange Shirt Day movement began after Phyllis Webstad shared a story of her first day at a residential school in British Columbia. She arrived at school excited to show off her brand new orange shirt when it was stripped off her back.
The Western Development Museum was jammed full of elementary school students donning orange shirts on Friday to mark the annual day, while simultaneously celebrating Métis Cultural Days.
Shirley Isbister was overlooking the crowd from a balcony above the museum’s famous boomtown display as kids learned a Métis jig and crowded around fiddle players.
She couldn’t be more overjoyed to see such a celebration.
“You dream about this,” she said. “You dream about having all the children attend to learn about Metis culture and history, about reconciliation, about Orange Shirt Day.”
“I’m just totally overwhelmed with the amount of children that are here.”
Isbister is a residential school survivor and is able to reflect on a time when a celebration like Friday’s was unimaginable.
“For lunch, we were hiding our bannock so that the other kids wouldn’t see it and so we wouldn’t entice racism because we deal with that every day of our lives,” she said.
“It was hidden.”
More than anything else, Isbister is amazed at how knowledgeable and inquisitive kids are today when it comes to Indigenous history. Her six grandchildren all went to school on Friday having heard many stories about residential schools and its survivors.
“The children know why they’re wearing an orange shirt today,” Isbister said.
Danielle Ethir, a teacher at Bishop Klein, school agrees that young school students are more equipped with Indigenous history than ever before.
“We do our best as teachers to make sure the content that we’re teaching (students) involving residential schools is at their age level, so they understand — through literature, videos or activities we do — that it meets them at their own specific level,” she said.
As Bishop Klein welcomed delegates from the Saskatoon Police Service, FSIN and Saskatoon Fire Department for a solidarity walk to honour residential school survivors, they weren’t just wearing orange shirts.
They were given weeks of lessons and activities to contextualize what was being planned.
“I think speaking about residential schools and having our youth learn about what it really meant to Canada and what the wrongdoings were are really important for our youth to know,” Ethir said.
“Wearing an orange shirt isn’t just about Orange Shirt Day, but it really is about recognizing what happened, making sure it doesn’t happen again and putting in that love for our residential school survivors.”
Multiple events are being held across the city over the weekend, with a pancake breakfast beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the Western Development Museum.