Although we, as a nation, are miles away from where we used to be, we’ve still got quite a ways to go before reaching equality and righting the wrongs of our past. And as we prepare to travel the path ahead of us, it’s important to remember to wear our orange t-shirts.
Going into its sixth year, thousands are set to celebrate Orange Shirt Day Monday, based on the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad, a residential school survivor who had her brand new orange shirt taken from her on the first day of school and never returned.
Now an annual occurrence, Orange Shirt Day promotes awareness and education about the residential school system, its impact on Indigenous communities across the country, and emphasizes “Every Child Matters,” the event’s slogan, which is featured on all of its shirts.
Beginning in the 1800s and continuing for more than a century, Indigenous children from coast to coast were taken from their homes and sent away to live in residential schools: government-funded, religious boarding schools that attempted to assimilate aboriginal children any way they could.
And while any orange shirt will do, purchasing one that features Fred Jackson’s artwork will put money into the Stó:lo mentorship program, which was designed for the very people Orange Shirt Day aims to help.
So this year, when Nations Creations put out a call for designs, Fred Jackson, who was born and raised on the Tzeachten First Nation, sat down at his computer and crafted a visual answer he titled The Bonding.
“When I read what they wanted, the first thing that popped into my head was a mother wolf and cub,” said Jackson. “And you can see in the (design) there’s a mother and a child also.”
Explaining his creative process for this design, Jackson said “it was almost like somebody was telling me a story and I illustrated it,” during a telephone interview.
“I had family members who were in residential schools,” he continued. “Most families have aunts and uncles and grandparents who went to residential schools.”
Even though Canada’s known worldwide as one of the friendliest, most equitable nations on the globe, we still carry our fair share of sour notes beneath our maple syrup sweetness.
During their century-long tenure, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced into the care of 130 residential schools across Canada, where at least 6,000 died, however, about 80,000 former students are still living today.
“And because they’ve been through so much … it affects our generation because it gets passed down,” Jackson added.
So upon learning that his design had been chosen for this year’s Nations Creations Orange Shirt Day shirts, which have been sold all over, Jackson says he felt proud.
“I’m pretty modest normally, but this is (pretty) cool,” said the self-taught artist. “It’s been sold across Canada and even further. I’m glad I could share a story and my art.”
Orange Shirt Day “is a great way to bring the community together and recall what happened and (offer) healing,” said Charmaine Surman from Vedder Elementary, where Jackson will speak during one of this year’s Orange Shirt Day events.
And “this design kind of hits home in that sense,” said Jackson. Designing it “made me feel better (about the past) that I could be a part of something people can enjoy.
“Bad stuff happens, but if we can find a way (through it), then it’s nice to be part of something that’s positive from something that was bad in the past.”