St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School survivor Phyllis Webstad witnessed history in Ottawa Wednesday.
Bill C-369, to make Sept. 30 a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday, passed through the House of Commons on March 20 and will now move to the Senate before becoming law.
Orange Shirt Day, which is also marked on Sept. 30, was inspired by Webstad’s experience of having her brand new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at St. Joseph’s Mission residential school near Williams Lake.
“It’s surreal,” she told the Black Press Media from Ottawa after the vote was passed. “We’ve made history and it was an honour to be here to witness the vote. Minister Jolibois hopes it will be passed by June.”
Her role in the bill was establishing Sept. 30th as the day for the statutory holiday, Webstad said.
“That is my connection to the bill. Of course it is not all about me, and thanks to the Orange Shirt Day Society, Joan and I were able to travel to Ottawa.”
Cariboo Regional District Area F director Joan Sorley travelled with Webstad to Ottawa to be present for the vote and said the fact the bill passed was “unbelievable.”
“We came outside saying, ‘Oh my God,’ and were jumping up and down and hugging each other,” Sorley said, adding the NDP and the Liberals voted in favour and the Conservatives, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, voted against the bill, including Cariboo Prince George MP Todd Doherty and Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod.
Before the vote, Webstad and Sorley met with Federal NDP MP Georgina Jolibois, who authored the bill.
They met her mother, family and staff.
“It was an honour to meet her,” Webstad said.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Jolibois said it was an important day for reconciliation in Canada.
“After 151 years of pain and suffering inflicted on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, there will now be a time to reflect and to build relationships to strengthen the Canadian society,” she noted. “With Justice Murray Sinclair who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Senate, I would expect this bill to go ahead without much opposition. I’m proud of the work we did to get this done. We heard from many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people across the country who wanted this done. This is a big day for all of us.”
Chiefs of the Northern Secwepemc to Quelmucw were swift to congratulate Webstad.
“We are very proud of Phyllis, for her courage and for the great work she has done,” said Chief Patrick Harry, spokesman for NStQ and Chief of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem. “National Truth and Reconciliation Day will be another important step on the path to healing.”
A national day of recognition was one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Tsq’escen Chief Helen Henderson.
“It is important to keep the conversation about residential schools going and to honour the victims,” Henderson said.
T’exelc Chief Willie Sellars thanked Webstad for her tireless work on behalf of residential school survivors, their families and their communities.
“It is important that we do not forget the legacy of these schools, and that the journey to reconciliation is one we must take together,” Sellars said.
Acting Xat’sull Chief Sheri Sellars said the legacy of residential schools exists.
“Taking one day a year to remember and pay honour to the victims is important, for their healing and for all of ours,” Sellars said.
Webstad also made presentations to two Catholic schools in Ottawa this week and she and Sorley will spend Thursday visiting the Assembly of First Nations before returning home on Friday.