The power of orange

Perspective is a powerful thing

By Crystal Murray

I’ve been thinking about perspective a lot these last few months since learning about the discoveries of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children on the sites of former Canadian residential schools. 

I was driving home from the office on a Friday night, looking forward to an evening with my children, when I first heard the news of the mass graves at the Kamloops, B.C. school—ground zero for a search that the federal government has pledged to support as Indigenous communities continue to search other residential school sites across the country.

The news instantly sickened me. My mood turned heavy, weighted with guilt I waded through that Friday night with my family. I had long known about the abuse of First Nations people and what I believed to be their experience to be at the residential schools.

I listened, or thought I had listened, to stories told by survivors and their families. I read books by Indigenous authors and bought art from Indigenous craftspeople. I cried when Gord Downey performed the songs from his album The Secret Path (telling the story of the life and death of Chanie Wenjack), and donated money. 

But a three-minute news clip changed how I see Canadian history. All that I thought I knew became real for me when I visualized the horrors of that mass grave.

Why did it take me so long? 

I realized that my perspective only mattered in the way that it needed to shift and while I could never fully understand the experience of the First Nations people in our country, I could start to reconsider what I knew about Canadian history from their perspective, to have these discussions with my own children, and to hope that as we learn and acknowledge the shameful mistakes of our ancestry as a settler nation, we could be a small part of the efforts of reconciliation. 

Check in on what your children are learning about the history of their country…and take the time to have these conversations at home

If you haven’t already embarked on this journey, I recommend you carve out time to take the free 12-lesson course offered through the University of Alberta to have a better understanding of Indigenous-settler relationships in our country.

On Sept. 30, the students in your household will be asked to wear an orange T-shirt to school. Your workplace might also make the same request. If you work from home, you might want to pull out your best piece of orange to wear that day, so you can also show you care. 

We wear orange on that day to remember a little girl from not that long ago who left her family to go to a place that stripped her of her orange t-shirt gifted to her by her grandmother, and tried to strip her of her culture, freedom,
and dignity. 

We wear orange for the thousands of other little children who had the same experience. We wear orange for the children who returned from these schools with wounds that will take generations to heal, and we wear orange for the children who were silenced, yet never forgotten by the people who really loved them. 

Before Sept. 30, ask your schools what they intend to do to acknowledge this day of remembrance and the conversations they intend to have with your children. Check in on what your children are learning about the history of their country—not just on that day, but all through the school year—and take the time to have these conversations at home. 

There are some great teaching resources that are helping tell a more accurate Canadian history. These are scary stories and while we can’t ignore them, it’s important to share them with children in developmentally appropriate ways. 

We need to make certain that Indigenous children in these classrooms and their families have resources they need so they feel supported by both their First Nations communities and non-Indigenous people. 

While I will likely always carry a little of the shame of my European ancestry in relation to the treatment of Indigenous people and other races, I remember something that I was taught in school that I know to be true. Canada is an Indigenous word meaning settlement. 

We took our name from the people who were here first, the way we took a lot of things. But in that name Canada there is a relationship that needs to be mended. It’s beyond time that we say thank you for sharing this land as we gain a better perspective about what it means to be a settler nation and to live and to celebrate the ideals that all our children matter.

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