Queen’s commemorates Residential School survivors on Orange Shirt Day

Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP) urges Queen’s to reflect on legacy of settler colonialism

Orange Shirt Day is held annually on Sept. 30.
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This article was updated with new information on Oct. 5 at 4 p.m.

This piece uses “Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC)” to refer to the experiences of racialized students. We acknowledge this term is not universal.

Orange Shirt Day events have taken a different shape this year because of COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP) from delivering a remote experience on Sept. 30 through social media. 

“Orange Shirt Day (September 30th) is a day where we commemorate the residential school experience and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families,” ATEP Program Coordinator Liv Rondeau wrote in a statement to The Journal. 

Rondeau introduced herself with a statement in Mohawk, writing “Liv iónkiats Rondeau tewakhsennà:sere. Okwáho niwaki’taró:ten, Mohawk niwakonhwentsiò:ten. Tewáhsen kaié:ri na’tewakohseriyá:kon. Katarokwi nitiwakè:non. Kanien’kéha kateweiénhstha.”

Rondeau teamed up with Lindsay Morcom, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, Elder-In-Residence Deb St. Amant, and ATEP candidates to create meaningful conversations about the history and effects of residential schools while honoring the voices of Indigenous peoples. 

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“We can do this by raising awareness, providing truthful education, and showing survivors that they matter,” Rondeau wrote. 

According to Rondeau, the orange shirt is symbolic of the orange shirt given to six-year-old Phyllis Webstad by her grandmother in 1973 on her first day of school at St. Joseph Mission School in Williams Lake, B.C. The shirt was quickly taken away from Webstad. 

“To me, these shirts show more than solidarity but also the value that Indigenous knowledge holds and the importance of preserving our cultures and languages,” Rondeau said. 

The Faculty of Education wasn’t the only Queen’s faculty to participate in Orange Shirt Day. In the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS), Aboriginal Access to Engineering and the Queen’s chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (QAISES) organized a bead and learn session on Sept. 28 for Orange Shirt Day.

The Faculty of Law also marked Orange Shirt Day by encouraging members of the law community to wear an orange shirt or change their zoom backgrounds to orange.

In previous years, community members were invited to sign orange shirts on campus as a visual representation of solidarity, support, and awareness.

This year, however, ATEP has moved its events online by encouraging individuals to engage with their resources and post a picture of themselves on Orange Shirt Day, either tagging @ATEPQueens and @QueensEDUC or using the hashtag #ATEPOrangeShirtDay. 

Rondeau acknowledged the importance of this year’s celebrations, especially in response to the University’s consultation regarding the de-naming of Sir John A. MacDonald Hall. 

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“[MacDonald] played a key role in the implementation of the Residential School Policy that took 150,000 known Indigenous children from their families and committed cultural genocide,” Rondeau said. 

“As a result of this, Indigenous peoples continue to experience intergenerational trauma, language and culture loss, and many other injustices.” 

Rondeau urged community members to continue having difficult, critical conversations about Canada’s past, present, and future, while centering and respecting the voices of Indigenous peoples. 

“Our ancestors fought to keep our culture and language alive, they stand with us in everything that we do, and it’s important that we recognize and honor them, our current generation, and the generations to come,” Rondeau said. 

Regarding what she hopes members of the Queen’s community will take away from Orange Shirt Day this year, Rondeau emphasized the importance of listening, learning, and educating others. 

“[We] must learn to honor Orange Shirt Day while continuing to engage in these critical conversations, every day […] Reconciliation and education cannot be a one-day journey.”

Speaking directly to Indigenous readers, Rondeau said, “we see your strength and resilience.” 

Rondeau also implored non-Indigenous readers to use Orange Shirt Day as “a chance to listen and respond by standing ‘with’”. 

Acknowledging that this isn’t a day to take lightly, Rondeau called on non-Indigenous POC and immigrant-settlers to “sit with these emotions, let them move you, and take action the other 364 days of the year.” 

“Everyday think about, ‘what can I do to decolonize, indigenize, listen or learn today?’”

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