Orange Shirt Day: Acknowledging and Learning from Our Past
Maurice Switzer '63 joined our Chapel virtually on Monday, September 28 to speak to students and faculty about the meaning of Orange Shirt Day and the importance of working towards reconciliation. Maurice is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation and spent his childhood and school years in the village of Lakefield. His grandparents — Moses Muskrat Marsden and Nellie Orma Franklin — both worked at The Grove in the early 1900s, and the school's Marsden Circles of Indigenous Learning are named in their honour. Maurice lives in North Bay and is participating in Lakefield College School's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion External Working Group.
Orange Shirt Day takes place every year on September 30. It is a day when we honour the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools in Canada and learn more about the history of those schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of residential schools and the legacy they left behind. Maurice shared a brief overview of the residential school system and its devastating impacts on Indigenous cultures within Canada.
The residential schools represented a system designed to assimilate Indigenous children with a stated directive that claimed "The purpose of the schools was to kill the Indian in the child." Some 132 residential schools operated across Canada for over a century, the last closing its doors in 1996. Day schools for Indigenous children were also operated by church denominations and funded by the government of Canada. Parents of over 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were forced to send their children to the schools, and over 80,000 "survivors" are still alive. One in every 25 children who attended Indian Residential Schools died, meaning it was statistically more dangerous to be a student at one of the schools than it was to be a Canadian soldier in World War II.
This week, we had orange shirts available to purchase leading up to Orange Shirt Day. All 100 shirts were sold with the $500 proceeds being donated to the Orange Shirt Society. Learning about the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day and talking about how, together, we can work towards making Canada a better country is an important opportunity to acknowledge and learn from our history.
"We should be learning from our past and I think Canadians are on the right track. The best thing you can do to make Canada the best country in the world is to learn about these experiences, learn more about, and get to know Indigenous people, and understand that having Indigenous cultures should not be regarded as a shortcoming, it should be regarded as a great gift from which Canada can draw strength." - Maurice Switzer ’63