PHOTO: Orange Shirt Day was celebrated at Langley schools on Sept. 30. The day is meant to raise awareness about Canada’s residential school history and the lasting impacts on society. Michael Gabriel, Kevin Kelly and Luke Dandurand drummed for students at James Kennedy Elementary. This was the school’s second year marking Orange Shirt Day. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)
James Kennedy Elementary was one of more than 130 schools in Canada taking part in Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30.
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013.
Orange Shirt Day arose from the recollections of elder Phyllis Webstad whose recounting of her first day at residential school went viral online.
Her grandmother had purchased a new shirt for Phyllis and it was taken away from her.
This is the second year James Kennedy has marked Orange Shirt Day, one of many Langley schools taking part.
“It warms my heart to see all of you participating in Orange Shirt Day,” said Luke Dandurand, a school district staff member in the Aboriginal program.
Orange Shirt Day is intended to open a dialogue about all aspects of residential schools and raise awareness about this aspect of Canadian history.
“You are the ones who are going to make it better for the future,” said Kevin Kelly, of Kwantlen First Nation.
The slogan is Every Child Matters and Sept. 30 was chosen because that’s the date aboriginal children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools.
More than 150,000 children were put into residential schools over a 150 year period. The last school closed in 1995.
One of the people taking part in the local events was Josette Antone Dandurand, Luke’s mother.
She was profiled in 2013 when she spoke to a group of high school students at Brookswood Secondary.
Childhood marked by humiliation and shame
A First Nations elder shares her experiences of residential school with Brookswood students.
February 19, 2013
by Heather Colpitts, Langley Advance
Josette Antone Dandurand held up three sheets of toilet paper.
Having to go to nuns as a small child and ask for toilet paper and receiving much less than needed for the job
remains one of the humiliating memories from her nine years in residential school.
And it’s one of the personal stories the 70-year-old shared with Brookswood Secondary students during presentations to four classes on Feb. 14. The classes are taking part in Project of Heart, a residential school healing project that started in Ottawa and spread across the country.
Her sessions on Valentine’s Day included the many heartbreaking events of her childhood.
“I feel that I didn’t have a childhood,” she said.
Dandurand, whose mother was Kwantlen First Nation and father was Nooksack, was seven when the Indian Agent and the RCMP arrived to take the children. She came from a family of six children, all sent to residential schools.
A priest at the Kuper Island residential school molested her. It was only in recent times that she won a legal case against him for that abuse.
Soon after arriving, a seven-year-old Josette, who had never seen flush toilets, wet her bed at night. In the morning, she told a nun and she was made, along with any other girls who wet their beds, to parade in front of the rest of the students with the soiled bed linens wrapped around their heads.
If she ever wet her bed after that, she never told a soul.
“I chose to sleep in a wet bed,” Dandurand said.
One morning she could not find her hankie for daily inspections.
“I lost my hankie so I was made an example,” she said.
The mother superior strapped her in front of the other children. Her older sister’s advice: “You don’t move your hand and you don’t cry. How many times I hear that – you don’t cry.”
The children were forced to work in the school dairy and orchard but were not allowed to have any of the food which was sold for money. Instead they were fed cheap food like potatoes and peas, although the students did get to watch the staff eat well.
Despite not accepting the Catholicism imposed on her as a child, Dandurand said she prays each day because she always wants to express her gratitude for what is good in her life.
Prayer and gratitude are some of the tools she uses in her healing. So is sharing her stories.
“I don’t ever want this to happen again,” she said.
Residential school students were taught that everything about them was bad or wrong, part of the government’s decision to assimilate Aboriginal peoples. “Never be ashamed of who you are,” Dandurand told the students.
Her presentation recounted the broad and lasting impacts of residential schools. In her life, it led to two decades of alcoholism before her adult sons asked her to stop.
Within her siblings and their families there have been traumas and scars directly tied to the residential school experiences some six decades ago.
One brother was so traumatized by the school dentists that when his teeth failed, he would pull them out himself, until he had none left.
There have been suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, and an array of relationship problems.
“We never talked about the things that happened to us in residential school,” she said.
Dandurand did what she had to do to survive those nine years and found solace in learning. After graduating she went into the Canadian Air Force, where the fighter control operator met her husband of 44 years and lived in various spots around Canada and abroad.
“Air force life was a piece of cake for me compared to residential school,” Dandurand said.
Through Dandurand’s presentation, Grade 8 students Lauren Chevrier, Angel Dick and Lee Strutinski got to put a face on what could have just been a paragraph in a textbook.
“We can think about it more and imagine what it was like,” Chevrier said.
“It’s more personalized,” Strutinski said.
She noted that her mom’s generation didn’t learn about residential schools when they were young.
Strutinski said she read a book by a survivor of the residential school so the subject was not new to her, like it was for Dick and Chevrier but all were disheartened to learn that this was a recent part of Canadian history.
The students taking part in Project of Heart drew on small wooden tiles in memory of the children who’ve died because of residential schools. Dick and Strutinski made their tiles into a dream-catcher to capture bad dreams created by the trauma the children went through, while Chevrier’s design with a heart was her desire to combat the heartbreaking history she learned.
Project of Heart tiles will be put on permanent display in Vancouver.
Teacher Larry Goldsack said he invites speakers such as Dandurand because the students gain a deeper understanding of how history and issues impact people.
He took part in Project of Heart when he was at another school last year but didn’t get to complete the several phases.
“This whole Project of Heart is something that’s long overdue,” Goldsack said.
He said since he introduced it for three of his Brookswood classes, other teachers have joined the campaign.
The end result is that these young people are talking about issues raised by the history of this country, and First Nations elders find healing in talking about their experiences and having those acknowledged by the broader society.
PHOTO: James Kennedy Elementary marked Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, the second annual celebration for the school. Orange Shirt Day is a national event to increase awareness of the native residential school history in Canada. Josette Dandurand (left) and Natache Gabriel, with her newborn, Ethan, are local residents who performed with a First Nations drumming and singing group. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)