PHOTOS: Hundreds gather in downtown Victoria for Orange Shirt Day

Dancer Keisha Jones performs a healing dance during Orange Shirt Day in downtown Victoria (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Dancer Keisha Jones performs a healing dance during Orange Shirt Day in downtown Victoria (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
High Schoolers perform a healing drum dance during Orange Shirt Day in downtown Victoria (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Students and teachers from local high schools led a healing drum song during Orange Shirt Day in downtown Victoria (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Steve Sxwithul’txw and his daughter Hayley Paetkau raise the Orange Shirt Day flag at Victoria’s City Hall. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Steve Sxwithul’txw and his daughter Hayley Paetkau speak during Orange Shirt Day at Victoria’s City Centennial Square. In front of them sits a brick from the residential school which had been on Penelakut Island. Sxwithul’txw was forced to attend the school as a child. “It was real, you can touch it,” he said. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Hundreds of people gathered in Centennial Square for Orange Shirt Day in downtown Victoria (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Victoria’s Centennial Square was transformed into an ocean of orange on Monday in commemoration of Orange Shirt Day, the national day to promote awareness about the Indigenous residential school program and its impacts.

The day began in 2013, when Phyllis Webstad shared her story of having her new, sparkly orange t-shirt taken from her when she was six years old and forced into residential school, where she and many others suffered from abuse and the stripping of culture and language. Since then, the day has sparked conversations and healing for thousands of victims and their families.

“We can change. Shame on them for what they did to us, but shame on us for carrying it so long,” shared Mickey Cook, a residential school survivor. “It’s time to get it out and be who we are; proud First Nations people.”

Steve Sxwithul’txw, a survivor of the Penelakut Island (formerly Kuper Island) residential school presented with his 10-year-old daughter Hayley Paetkau on the importance of sharing the history, and raising Indigenous youth to be strong leaders with cultural knowledge. He brought with him a brick from his school, that has since been demolished.

ALSO READ: Victoria’s third Orange Shirt Day ceremony encourages education about the residential school system

“I realized truly my existence was to educate these beautiful little ones so that they’re armed with the information of our history as Indigenous people, to carry it forward,” Sxwithul’txw said. “That was real, that brick there is real, it happened. It’s not a story in a book, or a weekend film. This happened.”

Together, he and his daughter, who initiated the recognition of Orange Shirt Day at her school, St. Michael’s University School, raised the Orange Shirt Day flag over city hall.

Tears were shed during the event, and tissues were collected by volunteers for burning in a cleansing ceremony later on.

ALSO READ: Reconciliation dialogues begin at Victoria City Hall Monday night

BC Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser, was also present and put forward an official proclamation to mark Sept. 30 Orange Shirt Day.

“With this proclamation we wish to shed light on the dark past, to create awareness amongst British Columbians on the harmful legacy of residential schools, to acknowledge the inter-generational trauma and loss of life lost to a colonial system,” Fraser said “And, to recognize the need to increase undrestanding for those who continue to be impacted, because, as the three words on all these T-shirts read: every child matters.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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