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Phyllis Webstad and the story behind Orange Shirt Day

(Courtesy OrangeShirtDay.org)

Phyllis Webstad went to a residential school in Williams Lake back in the 1970s

Webstad was stripped of her orange shirt her grandmother bought her before she left for residential school

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130 — The woman who inspired ‘Orange Shirt Day’, says she can’t believe how far it’s grown.

The day serves as a reminder of the brutal residential school system this country once had, and the impact it had on aboriginal children and families.

Phyllis Webstad went to a residential school in Williams Lake back in the 1970s, when she was just six years old, she had a new orange shirt on, and it was taken from her once she arrived there. She was the third generation in her family to attend one such school.

When people ask why her grandmother bought the orange shirt if she knew that kids were going to be stripped of their belongings, regardless, Webstad told them that is how her grandmother had always done it.

“My grannie always wanted to present us in the best possible way,” Webstad tells NEWS 1130. “Before we went to town, she always made sure we were bathed and that our clothes were clean, So this was no different.”

Webstad says what was supposed to be a day of remembrance in the Cariboo Chilcotin region of British Columbia has, thanks to social media, grown into a Canada-wide initiative. Though it’s still surreal to her, she says the day is bigger than a social media campaign.

“The day was created for conversation for residential schools and that’s what’s happening, and I always tell myself and everyone else that’s what important — the history of residential schools is being talked about and remembered,” she says.

Like many First Nations people who attended residential schools, she struggled with addiction in the past, but has since gone through a “healing” process. She echoes the words of Senator Murray Sinclair, who was the chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission which looked into the effect of that schooling system.

“Society will know we’re close to reconciliation when First Nations people no longer refer to their lives as a healing journey.”