Survivors share stories on Orange Shirt Day

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PICTOU LANDING — Smiles overcame the solemnity of Orange Shirt Day on Friday at Pictou Landing First Nation.

The orange t-shirts worn by participants bore a message this year indicating the service beside the community’s monument was “in honour of residential school survivors and in memory of those who did not.”

The monument in Pictou Landing contains a message in Mi’kmaq and English with an account that the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School operated from 1929 to 1967 and how the monument “honours Pictou Landing First Nation former students and their families for their resilience and represents hope for future generations.”

Jennie Stevens is among the survivors and she presided over the ceremony that began with a march led by Pictou District RCMP Const. Shaylene Sutherland and drummer Noel Nicholas, also a survivor of the residential school in Shubenacadie. Residents and students at the Pictou Landing First Nation Elementary School attended the ceremony.

“Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school in William’s Lake, B.C. in the spring of 2013,” Stevens said. She described how the annual event has grown from the day a new orange shirt taken from a First Nation student on her first day at the mission.

“It has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually,” she said.

Orange Shirt Day is generally observed on September 30 but took place on Friday this year to allow students to assemble for the event.

“The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year,” Stevens said.”It also gives teachers time to plan events that will include children, as we want to ensure that we are passing the story and learning on to the next generation.”

Students and others who attended approached the monument and laid flowers, while Nicholas sounded his drum for each name on the monument read by Stevens. Nicholas remembered attending the residential school for one year when he was five.

“We weren’t allowed to speak Mi’kmaq,” he said. “I don’t remember having meat to eat.”

Back home, he dropped out of school in Grade 8 but eventually completed Grade 12.

Chief Andrea Paul shared her challenges while she grew up living with the alcoholism and abuse inflicted on her by her father, Robert Paul, who also attended the residential school in Shubenacadie. Like Stevens and Nicholas, Robert Paul’s name appeared among those listed on the monument.

Paul described how, for a time, she had to ask her father to leave their home and how they later reconciled.

“I don’t know my dad’s story,” she said. “I think he was protecting me from what he suffered in school.”

She said people can come to the monument when they feel the need, not just on September 30.

“We continue to work so our children have a better tomorrow,” she said. “The descendents need to start talking, too.”

Mary (Nicholas) Hatfield was among residential school survivors who accepted beads from students during the ceremony. (Goodwin photo)

INSET: Mary (Nicholas) Hatfield was among residential school survivors who accepted beads from students during the ceremony. (Goodwin photo)