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Sooke School District responds to heartbreak of residential schools with learning opportunities

The Gazette offers some Indigenous learning resources for readers to start with
Marlene Clifton says all Canadians need to learn the whole awful truth of residential schools. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

The Sooke School District has planned a week of recognition at its schools in response to the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation’s discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops.

“We have come up with some opportunities in which we can connect, providing space for us to reflect upon the tragic history of residential schools and to continue the healing journey together,” superintendent Scott Stinson wrote in an email to parents.

Teachers will use age-appropriate resources to have discussions with students, to help them learn and respond. School flags will be lowered to half mast until June 8, for a total of 215 hours representing each of the children who were found. Students and teachers are encouraged to wear orange throughout the week to commemorate the tragedy.


Marlene Clifton, who we interviewed Monday said this tragic discovery needs to incite people to learn the painful truth of residential schools. Here are some resources to start with.

  • Read A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools, a compilation book from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports.
  • Listen to a podcast by Historica Canada that commemorates the stories and honours the survivors, their families, and communities.
  • Watch the Secret Path film or read the graphic novel. It tells the story of Chanie, a young boy who died in 1966 while trying to escape from a residential school. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, or know how to find it. But like so many other kids, he tried.
  • Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports and calls to action:
  • Read: Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, a book by Paulette Regan, a former residential-schools-claims manager. Regan argues non-Aboriginal Canadians must “undergo their own process of decolonization. They must relinquish the persistent myth of themselves as peacemakers and acknowledge the destructive legacy of a society that has stubbornly ignored and devalued Indigenous experience.”
  • Read an online overview of residential schools from the University of B.C.’s Indigenous Foundations program.

READ MORE: Gitksan grandmother says Canadians need to face the whole truth about residential schools

Why orange?

It comes from Orange Shirt Day that’s held annually on Sept. 30, to acknowledge the atrocities committed at residential schools in Canada. The original orange shirt was bought in 1973 by Phylis Webstad’s grandma for her first year at the Mission of Saint-Joseph residential school in Williams Lake. “I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting,” Webster wrote.

“When I got to the Mission they stripped me and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt. I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine!

“The colour orange has always reminded me of that, and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared, and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Her story inspired the annual Orange Shirt Day, now also a national Day of Reconciliation.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers to wear orange shirts to honour children found dead at residential school


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