Orange Shirt Day honours the lost culture of Indigenous people

Photo Credit: Leslie Czegeny

Photo Credit: Leslie Czegeny

Brock’s Aboriginal Students Services (AbSS) is preparing to take part in Orange Shirt Day (OSD) to honour and remember those who experienced the residential school system.

The event is held on Monday, September 30. This date was chosen as it commemorates the time of year Indigenous children were taken from their homes and forced into residential schools in recent history. Orange shirts are a symbol of the suffering endured, as well as the lost culture and innocence of childhood. It also provides teaching opportunities around anti-bullying and anti-racism at the start of each new school year.

“We wear the orange shirt to honour the survivors of the residential school system and in memory of those that did not survive,” said Cindy Biancaniello, events coordinator for AbSS.

Orange Shirt Day is hosted to honour Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s experiences. She was six years old in the 1970s when she was sent to a Mission school. On her first day she wore a new orange shirt that her grandmother saved money to purchase for her. When she arrived they stripped her down and took the shirt. She never saw it again. The Orange Shirt Day website has more information on her story:

For Orange Shirt Day all students, staff and faculty are encouraged to wear orange. Other activities hosted by AbSS on this day include signing a display orange shirt, looking at artifacts and books about the residential school system and the opportunity to explore a five foot tall banner style timeline display titled: 100 Years of Loss.

“It is called 100 Years of Loss because there are 100 years of lost culture due to the residential school system,” said Biancaniello.

AbSS works to support those living with the residual effects of the residential school systems as well as to help self identified students get back some of their lost culture. They offer free cultural support through workshops such as wood burning, as well as moccasin making and bracelet beading.  Other students are welcome to attend these workshops for a small fee.

“Our doors are always open for anyone who wishes to learn a little more about what we do here,” says Biancaniello.

First Nations, Metis and Inuit students have the opportunity for free tutoring and academic supports through AbSS and their partnership with A-Z Learning Services.  AbSS provides computers and a space for their students to work as well.

Recently Brock and the Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board (NPAAMB) have partnered to offer their students the opportunity to prepare themselves better for their future careers through their Circle of Support: Career Mentorship Program. Together they will work with the 22 students enrolled this year in career training and resume writing to build valuable job skills. This partnership works with businesses offering them subsidies to hire these students in order to provide work experience in their area of study in hopes that they will get a job after they graduate.

“Even though our students are finishing school with undergraduate, masters and graduate degrees, doors are not opening.  We need to bring awareness to businesses and the public to open doors for our people,” said Sandra Wong, supervisor of AbSS.

Orange Shirt Day is just one event to help students honour the memory of the survivors of the residential school system. Brock’s Aboriginal Student Services is dedicated to offering their students the opportunity to regain their culture and move into the future with opportunities and education.

Join the staff and students at Aborignal Student Services on Orange Shirt Day to learn more about their loss of culture and how they strive to regain their legacy. Interested students can visit for more information about the event and can connect with AbSS in TH145.

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