Nipissing University Alumni and Students ensure Every Child Matters
By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY – It started with an event to raise awareness of Orange Shirt Day at Nipissing University. People huddled into the tipi in the courtyard while a couple of students in orange stayed dry under a canopy. They were passing out orange t-shirts and ribbons.
A smudge took place in the tipi with Nipissing University Resident Elder John Sawyer. The university’s Indigenous Initiatives hosted the event to raise awareness for the survivors of Residential Schools who had their cultural and personal identities taken away.
The little girl who had her new orange shirt stripped from her when she went to a Mission school is Phyllis Webstad of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She received the 2017 TRU Distinguished Alumni Award for sharing her impactful orange shirt story. On the website http://www.orangeshirtday.org/ , Webstad says the color orange reminds her of how, as a vulnerable child, her feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how she felt like she was worth nothing.
Laureen Linklater-Pizzale saw the poster and jumped to action. “My mother was a residential school survivor as well as my grandmother and my aunt. I have plenty of cousins who went as well so it means a lot to me. I invited the mayor here today and Nipissing First Nation Councillor Jason Laronde. There are representatives here from the North Bay Indian Friendship Centre as well as Mary Wabano of Canadore College First People’s Centre and Patty Chaput from Canadore College. It’s important to rally together on this movement to support reconciliation.”
Linklater-Pizzale handed North Bay Mayor Al McDonald a letter to request that September 30 be recognized as Orange Shirt Day in the city. “I think it is important for First Nations and non-First Nations to acknowledge the clear history and move forward together.”
Mayor McDonald agreed immediately to the proclamation. The proclamation reads that orange shirts are worn to honour and recognize children who were taken from their homes to attend Residential Schools. “Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.”
James Landrie was giving out orange shirts that said Every Child Matters as part of the awareness event hosted by The Office of Indigenous Initiatives or Enji giigdoyang. As a Nipissing University student from Dokis First Nation, Landrie feels strongly about volunteering for Orange Shirt Day. “My mother was a Residential School survivor. It runs through my family and that’s what I took in school. It goes deep to my roots. My mother didn’t see her father for 37 years after she was taken away at 5 years old. She wouldn’t let us, her family, her children, return to Dokis for fear that we would be taken away and taken off to Residential School because that’s what she knew. I was five years old before I got to go back to my reserve.”
Doris Paul-Martin is a third year of the Concurrent Education Program Majoring in BA Honours Specialization in Child and Family Studies and is from Kashechewan First Nation. “This is really important to me. My parents went to Residential School. So I’m here to help out. Indigenous Initiatives have been really supportive and is a comfortable area to be in during my studies. I’m a volunteer as a academic support tutor in the Biidaaban Community Service-Learning Program, a mentor at high schools in the Wiidooktaadwin Program, as well as Peer2Peer mentor in the Indigenous Mentorship Initiatives at Nipissing University.”
Mary Wabano is an Associate Dean of Indigenous Studies at Canadore College and the Director of the Peoples’ Centre. Asked why she was attending the event, Wabano talked of her Grandmother. “She was the oldest Residential School Survivor at 103 years old. She was in Ottawa to hear the apology on Residential Schools from then Prime Minister Harper. She was my father’s mother who went to St. Anne’s Residential School. Four generations of my family went to it.”
A group of Indigenous students welcomed everyone at the Orange Shirt Day event for a potluck lunch in the Enji giigdoyang — The Office of Indigenous Initiatives.