Life @ U of T

Commemorating Orange Shirt Day


In this post I wanted to talk about the beading workshop that I went to last week. It was hosted by the Ciimaan/Kahuwe’ya/Qajaq (CKQ) collective at the Centre for Indigenous Studies. CKQ is a group that is dedicated to using Indigenous languages every day and is committed to language revitalization. This event was organized in collaboration with Indigenous Studies Student’s Union (ISSU).

Students at the Centre for Indigenous Studies beading orange shirt pins
Students at the Centre for Indigenous Studies beading orange shirt pins

On September 26th, CKQ’s Jenny Blackbird hosted a beading workshop, Miikisekwaso, where we beaded orange shirt pins. These beaded orange shirts symbolize the importance of commemorating Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day is a commemorative movement and project to honour Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. She told her story, which you can read more about here. Phyllis is an Indian Residential School survivor and her grandmother bought her an orange shirt for her first day. She was stripped of this shirt, and many other things while attending the school. Phyllis’s story is one that can be echoed across the country in terms of the experiences of attending Residential School’s in Canada.

When telling her story, she was able to spread the message and awareness of the violence of these schools. September 30th is now recognized as Orange Shirt Day to honour Phyllis’s story, and many other children, families and survivors of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Wearing an orange shirt on this day is a way to stand in solidarity.

Jenny Blackbird's collection of orange shirt beadings
Jenny Blackbird’s collection of orange shirt beadings

In Canada, the legacy of the Residential Schools still impacts families and communities to this day, and raising awareness of these types of stories and movements is a way to acknowledge but also heal a very violent history.

The beading session was open to anyone and CKQ provided all the materials. It was held for about 3 hours, in which students could drop-in, leave when they need to. It was really fun. I think that for me, it can be hard to live with that history, especially when it has impacted my community. But coming together in the beading workshop was great, and just a collective way to just be together and share space was really heart-warming.

I was able to finish mine up, not the best but not bad for a first time beaded shirt I would say. In a way it has made me a bit more keen to keep beading as a leisure activity. Many of my cousins and friends are beaders and mention that beading can be a good way to reduce anxiety and stress. I would have to agree, being able to sit down and focus on something intricate can in a way make time slow down and allow you to simply focus on patterning and stitching. Most of the supplies you can also get from Michael’s or similar craft stores.

the beaded orange shirt I made in the workshop
My beaded orange shirt

The legacy of residential schools have directly impacted the ways in which Indigenous languages and cultures have been erased. In my own family, my grandparents were all Oneida Language speakers but due to legislation, social pressure and colonial mentalities the transmission of language onto the next generation was nearly non-existent.

This is a huge change to now, because when I grew up, in my school we had Oneida language classes. I am nowhere near where I would like to be with my proficiency, but it is a goal in my life to learn my Native language.

For the upcoming weeks and term I will do my best to make time and attend language classes at the Native Canadian Centre. Located just North of Spadina Station, the Native Canadian Centre is a community organization which hosts many events, gatherings, workshops. You can see their calendar of events here to check out what is going on in the next weeks and months.

That’s all for me this week, yaw^ko for reading! – Diane


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