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FMPSD Hosts Phyllis Webstad as Orange Shirt Day Observed Across the Division

FMPSD Hosts Phyllis Webstad as Orange Shirt Day Observed Across the Division

Phyllis Webstad meets Dr. Clark students Phyllis Webstad meets Dr. Clark students

Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD) observed Orange Shirt Day on September 30, 2019. This year we had the honour of hosting Phyllis Webstad on October 9 and 10 at Keyano Theatre, who inspired the Orange Shirt Day movement, and is the author of The Orange Shirt Story. An estimated 1600 students and staff attended the talks. Thank you to the Wood Buffalo Regional Library for inviting our students for her presentation at MacDonald Island. 

Orange Shirt Day commemorates when Webstad's shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken away on the first day of residential school. She never wore it again, and was only six. The memory never left her.  

Residential schools were government run institutions to assimilate Indigenous children into the Euro-Canadian culture. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken away at that time, of which approximately 6,000 died. Over 130 residential schools operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996.

Webstad was taken away to St. Joseph Mission Residential School in her hometown of Williams Lake, BC where she spent a year in 1973. She shared her impressions of the place.

“I never felt I mattered there, which is why we came up with the ‘Every Child Matters’ motto. We believe in it. I want all the children to know they matter. And, this can never happen again. It was in the past,” Webstad shared.

Here's what Dr. Clark's grade four students had to say about her talk at Keyano Theatre:

I'm happy that I got a chance to see Phyllis Webstad. I will remember today. (Avery) 

I'm glad that I got to hear what she had to say about residential schools. (Phoenix)

I'm happy that you got to bring her here and let her teach us about the past. Thank you for making that happen.  (Noah) 

I am happy that we got to hand out the feathers and that we got to hug her. I will remember her.  (Marisa)

I actually got to see Phyllis  and it was special. And she's famous.  (Jannat) 

I learned that every kid should be treated the same, which is nice.  (Thabiso)

I was so happy that she came to see us all. Thank you for helping her to be with us. (Jasper) 

Angela Woods, FMPSD's Indigenous Education Lead thanked Syncrude and NORCAN Electric Inc. for sponsoring the event at Keyano Theatre, and Annalee Nutter, Associate Superintendent, Education for co-organizing the events. She noted "The Orange Shirt Story“ presentation was powerful and memorable for our students.”

“Phyllis shared real life experiences of a residential school and the implications on the lives of those who attended residential schools. Her presentation led to deep questions and further discussion both in and out of the classroom. Our intention as a Division was to guide students and staff into deeper conversations about the legacy of residential schools, to further our understanding of the implications of those experiences, and to help with our part in Truth and Reconciliation."

Superintendent Doug Nicholls agrees. 

“Indigenous Education is an FMPSD priority. We were honoured to host Phyllis Webstad, and I found her talk inspirational, and motivating. All of us can do more for Truth and Reconciliation, and listening to survivors of residential schools is an important part of this. Thank you to Angela Woods, and our schools for another successful Orange Shirt Day observed across the Division, and Phyllis Webstad for the visit.”

The Division looks forward to observing Orange Shirt Day next year. 

Orange Shirt Day Photo Gallery