BONNYVILLE — Volunteers with the Grassroots Movement Committee, a Bonnyville based group, have organized a day full of cultural Indigenous and Métis events for Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, which now coincides with the new federal holiday National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday, live performance and speeches by Indigenous community members and artists will be streamed live on social media during the day, followed by a vehicle procession through the Town of Bonnyville.
The “Orange Shirt Drive Through” will begin at 4:30 p.m. and will be livestreamed as well. Those wishing to join the procession are welcome, but more than anything organizers hope people show up to watch, wave and show support for those passing by, said volunteer organizer Corita Vachon.
An official route is expected to be set before the event.
For those tuning into the virtual program throughout the day, they will be entranced in hoop dancing by Beany John, a performance by the Kehewin Native Dance Theatre, Métis jigger Corbin Poitras and a traditional dance in full regalia by Christine Mack, who will also do a Métis Jig.
Musical additions to the program include fiddling by Alex Kusturok and Karen Dion, as well as the from traditional drum group Northern Cree.
The day will also include speeches by first and second-generation residential school survivors as well as traditional storytelling.
Vachon says the Grassroots Movement Committee originally planned the event to take place in-person, but the program had to be moved virtually and held at different locations due to provincial health restrictions and high rates of COVID-19 within the community.
When health restrictions ease, the committee intends to plan and another event filled with music, dance and knowledge sharing, she added.
A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
On Thursday, Rosa John, a grassroots volunteer, will be telling the story of the young Phyllis Webstad and her orange shirt.
The true story of how Webstand had her orange shirt - a gift from her grandmother - stripped away on the first day of residential school sparked an Indigenous-led movement to honour children who survived Indian Residential Schools and to remember those who did not.
Orange shirts, often adorned with the phrase “Every Child Matters,” have become an international symbol for Indigenous Peoples around the world who fell victim to colonization.
"It has become everybody’s story. Everybody who experienced the same degradation in residential schools,” she stated.
Even though the act of reflecting on the horrors of Canada’s former Indian Residential School may lead to discomfort, John says it is an important part of reconciliation for non-Indigenous Canadians.
“We have to feel that discomfort because in that discomfort, is how we learn and how we come to reconcile with the tragedies that were inflicted on Native people,” she told Lakeland This Week. “This didn’t just impact people who’ve passed on – there still there.”
John adds, “Canada’s Indigenous Peoples are not the only ones who were deprived of food or had their movement restricted — had their children stolen from their communities. This happened south of the border, this happened in Australia and New Zealand,” she says. “This is the story of colonization. It was intentional, they knew what they were doing – They were professional colonizers.”
John says, she hopes that on Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, people take the time to reflect on the legacy of colonization and its impacts on the present.
“Just knowing the history goes a long way,” she added.