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We Wore the Orange Shirts… What’s Next? #orangeshirtday

Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters

Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters

Today was (is) an important day in the steps toward reconciliation in Canada. Today, many people wore orange shirts “in honour of residential school survivors and in memory of those who did not”.  This is a huge start in creating awareness of the tragic and horrific years that residential schools were in existence; in addition, it is also a chance to highlight the incredible strength of the thousands of people that survived their residential school experience.

I was proud to look around at so many colleagues in the Langley School District wearing orange today as a way to say that we are committed to reconciliation.  Thank you to Michael Morgan along with our leadership team for putting this at the forefront of what we do as educators in Langley.

Having said all this… some of my critical friends (who are so passionate about equity) who continually challenge me to be better would say that wearing an orange shirt is easy. It just scratches the surface of building understanding and working toward real reconciliation.  As Justice Sinclair shares at the video on the bottom of this post, “We cannot look at quick and easy solutions because there are none” and so the more important question is, “what can we do today to make steps toward reconciliation?”.  We did an amazing job of supporting Orange Shirt Day… so what’s next?

One of the challenges that I face is the fact that I often do not know the answer to this question. However, I have had the privilege and honour to work with incredible people who have continually challenged and mentored me during my years in the Fraser-Cascade School District (Kasey Chapman, Nancy Pennier, Robert Genaille, Tyrone McNeil along with far too many to name in the communities of Seabird Island and Sts’ailes) as well as people whom I get to work with now in the Langley School District (Cecilia Reekie, Donna Robins (and the Gabriel family), Bonnie VanHatten along with many others).  If there is one thing I have learned through the many conversations I have had with these mentors along with many survivors of residential schools is that I just need to listen.  I need to listen to the stories. I need to listen for guidance. I need to listen to determine how to support (and work alongside with) those who will lead us to reconciliation as we move down this important path.

Orange Shirt Day has led to more questions from educators, students, and families than I have ever encountered in the past and this is such a positive start. The challenge is moving beyond the single day event and making this an important journey toward reconciliation.

I feel I have very few answers. I also know that this is ok because I have many people that are leading me and so many others down this path that we must take as an education system and as a society.  “Every Child Matters” – every child in our past, present and future matters.

Thank you to everyone who has promoted Orange Shirt Day and taught me so much about the tragic experiences of residential schools as well as the incredible strength of those survivors. We must now keep the dialogue and actions going beyond Orange Shirt Day. Connect with those who can lead us on this journey together as a Canadian society. Reconciliation affects all of us. Take the time to simply listen to our neighbours and community members, ask questions, seek to understand, seek guidance, and move forward together.

As terribly difficult it is to hear the stories from the survivors of residential schools, it is so moving to see the unbelievable strength in people. I am honoured to to have the opportunity to be even a small part of such an important journey in our country’s history.

What Is Reconciliation from TRC – CVR on Vimeo.

For some key resources and powerful, yet heartbreaking stories, visit the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada websites.

Here are 10 books to read with children to help teach about residential schools. 

 

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls. Currently working as the Principal of James Hill Elementary School (K-5) in Langley, BC, Canada. Passionate about strengths-based education and leadership, assessment, and human motivation.

3 Comments

  1. Great job Chris!!! Reconciliation will look different for each person, that is the beauty of it. There is no check-list to go through and then we get to say we are done, we have no idea how we are going to get there or how long it will take to reconcile, but we will know it in our hearts when we have succeeded as we all journey together! It truly is amazing to watch the work being done in all our schools, to watch our students, families and staff being courageous enough to learn, acknowledge and understand our very sad shared history. All my relations, Cecelia

  2. Great post, Chris
    You pose the question that I think everyone asks: “The challenge is moving beyond the single day event and making this an important journey toward reconciliation.”
    We have so many “one off experiences” to help us understand and yet, very little embedded into our everyday practices.
    As educators, we need to draw light and attention to the practices and the “ways of doing” that existed long before our own ancestors arrived here; we need to try to embed these practices into the daily rhythms of our school day and in so doing, educate, engage and enrich the learning experiences of all our students (move this beyond a one day or one month
    ‘special’ focus and make it a daily reality).
    One of the ways we are doing this in some of our schools is establishing the use of “Healing Circles” as a focal point of our restorative justice practices. In doing this, all students not only experience a process that is truly of this land but also learn to understand and appreciate that the development of critical reflection, empathic communication and compassion are skills that can be enhanced through our appreciation of FN culture/practices. It makes real what is in the textbook!

  3. A very thoughtful post – thank you for helping provoke thinking and promote action!
    I appreciate your inclusion of Justice Sinclair’s vimeo. He has a beautiful way of helping us all understand what reconciliation truly means for all Canadians and how we will all need to play a role to get there.
    Keep up the super writing! I’ll be reading! 🙂

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