After years of effort, an orange shirt commemorating the victims of Canada’s residential school system is now on permanent display in the B.C. legislature.
The framed shirt was presented at a ceremony on Oct. 27 and features a quote by residential school survivor Eddy Charlie and a design by Indigenous artist Bear Horne.
“You can’t define a moment like that with words,” Charlie said. “When I think about this ceremony, I can only think about the community and the (more than) 150,000 children who went to residential schools … I really want Canada and people all across the world to think about this.”
Charlie said the project started two years ago when he and co-founder of the Victoria chapter of Orange Shirt Day, Kristin Spray, were approached about displaying a flag designed by Horne in the legislature to honour residential school survivors. But Charlie said he did not feel there was a relationship of reconciliation strong enough for him to be OK with a flag being displayed.
He felt a shirt bearing the design – which features a bear to guide people on the right path, an eagle to help people have a vision of a bright future, the hummingbird to keep the mind, body and spirit healthy, and the flower to feed the connection of all the other elements – would be more appropriate and still facilitate a move toward reconciliation.
Having the shirt on display in the legislature’s Hall of Honour is an important step toward reconciliation, Charlie said, but it is far from the only thing needed to achieve that goal.
“It’s one small step toward healing between two different cultures and two different communities,” he said. “Having that shirt on display with my quote is incredibly powerful … every orange shirt worn by Indigenous people carries a lot of grief.”
Charlie said he hopes people who see the display go home and think about the residential schools and the impact they had on Indigenous peoples and have honest conversations about truth and reconciliation.
The fact the B.C. government is willing to display the shirt gives Charlie “faint hope” things will improve.
“I believe that tiny bit of hope can go a long way to opening up more conversation.”
Support for survivors and their families is available. Call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, or 1-866-925-4419 for the 24-7 crisis line. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society also offers 24-7 support at 250-723-4050 for adults, 250-723-2040 for youth, or toll free at 1-800-588-8717.