On Orange Shirt Day, Sault Tribe raises awareness of residential school history

SAULT STE. MARY – On September 30, community members from across the Sault area will come together to raise awareness of the traumatic and lasting effects that Native American residential schools have had on history.

For generations, Indigenous families were forced to send their children to residential schools where they would live and be educated. Boarding schools were federal government and religious institutions that forced Native American children to assimilate into white culture through education while denying their own language and customs.

According to the Northern Plains Reservation Aid, the schools began in 1860 when the first school was established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington state. The schools were in 30 states and remained active well into the 1980s.

In Michigan, there were several schools in operation, including one in Harbor Springs. This school, Holy Childhood, opened in 1889 and ceased operations in 1983.

“They felt there was an Indian problem, what they wanted to do was assimilate all Native Americans to be more like white people and they basically wanted to commit genocide,” said Jessica Gillotte, organizer of the event. events for the Advocacy Resource Center. “They wanted to eliminate the Indian race, they wanted to take the culture away from these children.”

In 2013, Indigenous groups across Canada and the United States celebrated the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which raises awareness of the history of abuse in Native American residential schools. In 2021, it became an official holiday in Canada and is observed by Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is often known as Orange Shirt Day and is observed by wearing orange shirts to show support for residential school survivors and their families. Orange shirts have become a symbol based on the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad, who as a child had all her personal possessions taken and never returned when forced into the boarding school system . Among those possessions was his favorite orange shirt, given to him by his grandmother.

Big Bear staff commemorate Orange Shirt Day in 2021.

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In recent years, more than 1,000 unmarked graves of Aboriginal students have been discovered on or near several of these residential schools.

“Every Native American living today has been affected in some way by Native American boarding schools and what they did to our people,” Gillotte said.

To mark Orange Shirt Day, the Sault Tribe Advocacy Resource Center is hosting a Community Quilt Dedication Ceremony at 4 p.m. on September 30.

During the ceremony, six survivors who personally experienced boarding schools as children will be present to speak about what they experienced. The Sault Tribe Advocacy Resource Center will come together with the community to show support for survivors and present them with a handmade quilt that dozens of community members have contributed.

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A quilt square made by community member Mary Iser as part of the Community Quilt Dedication.

Nearly 100 Sault residents have created their own knitted quilt squares over the past month, and the resource center has knitted those squares together into one large community quilt. Many locals will gather at the Niigaanagiizhik building on Friday to see the community quilt presented in its entirety to honor the victims of the residential school.

For more information, visit the Advocacy Resource Center for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians website.

Contact Brendan Wiesner: BWiesner@Sooeveningnews.com

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