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I had the honour of helping plan the Orange Shirt Day Assembly for my children’s school last Friday.

Orange Shirt Day, which takes place on September 30 each year, is a day to talk about and recognize the harm that the residential school system did to children’s self-esteem and well-being. By talking and learning more about the residential school system, we are showing that we believe that everyone around us matters – that all people are equal – that we are all part of one big human family.

This all started last May, when Laura Birch (one of our fantastic teachers) and I took 18 children to Mamawi Together’s Youth for Reconciliation Community Day. We attended workshops to learn more about the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Then all the students from all the schools in attendance came together to talk about specific actions they could take to increase Indigenous awareness and education in schools.

One student in particular took an interest in organizing an Orange Shirt Day Assembly – and she had the great idea to hold the assembly the day before you are supposed to be wearing your orange shirts, so that on Monday, everyone knows why they are wearing orange shirts. She felt that there are so many other coloured shirt days throughout the year that sometimes the meanings behind the actions get lost. She wanted to really empower the students with the knowledge of why they were suppose to wear an orange shirt. I thought that was such a great idea. She had a particular interest in Orange Shirt Day because for her Informative Speech project last year, she chose to write about Residential Schools. She got to read that speech at the assembly today … but I am getting ahead of myself. I will try to give you the highlights from the assembly in order …

The assembly was led by two intermediate students as the MCs and they did an amazing job. They explained a bit about Orange Shirt Day and then we showed a video from the Founder of Orange Shirt Day: https://youtu.be/E3vUqr01kAk

Then we had a special guest come in to read Stolen Words, written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, to the students. This special guest is a First Nations man, the husband of another one of our fantastic teachers. We were so grateful to have him participate in our assembly and read this powerful story. We then gifted a copy of the book to the library so that students can take it out whenever they want to.

Then I spoke a bit about our participation at Mamawi Together’s Youth for Reconciliation Community Day last year. And that awesome student who took an interest in the Orange Shirt Day Assembly read her speech. A few other awesome students helped introduce another project we are going to undertake – updating our library to ensure that our books help students learn more about Indigenous people in a positive way.

Then, to build on the commitment that we have made to learn more about Indigenous culture and heritage, we also had another special guest, Simon, who is a youth presenter and a member of the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre’s Bridging the Gap Team. Simon talked about his experiences growing up first in Iqaluit and then moving to Ottawa. He had two volunteers demonstrate some Inuit games. The students loved his presentation.

The MCs ended by encouraging everyone to wear their orange shirts on Monday.

I thought it was such a lovely event, so heartwarming and inspiring. And I received some great feedback from the kids.

Two awesome boys in my daughter’s class, went up to Simon after to ask if he could stay for their gym class, which happened to be right after the assembly, to teach them more about Inuit games. Unfortunately, Simon couldn’t stay today, but he said he would love to come back again. The boys said they were going to practice the games that he showed them at recess.

Then as I was walking through the halls on my way out, I had two separate students stop me to say that it was a really great assembly. One of the boys is in grade 2 and I think the other boy is in grade 7 or 8.

Then after school today I had two other girls come up to tell me that they really enjoyed the assembly – one in grade 3 and one who I think is in grade 2.

I think that we can call it a success after receiving that much feedback from kids unprompted!

P.S. Here is a link to Stolen Words – I really recommend reading this book:
https://secondstorypress.ca/kids/stolen-words