Haley Paetkau told the story of Phyllis Webstad and the origin of Orange Shirt Day. (Gordon Chan photo)

Nine-year-old history teacher inspires action at Victoria school

Daughter of residential school survivor shares powerful message of resilience

Teaching children about trauma that other youth have had to endure can be complicated. Knowledge is powerful but can also be heavy to bear. This is especially so when the trauma was inflicted upon loved ones. The nine-year-old daughter of a residential school survivor demonstrated at her school this week, that though complicated, education is necessary and can foster empowerment, action and connection.

Haley Paetkau, Grade 4 student at St. Michaels University School, organized Orange Shirt Day on Oct.1, the first one held at the junior school. Paetkau was inspired by seeing her father, Steve Sxwithul’txw of the Penelakut First Nation, sharing stories at the Orange Shirt Day ceremony at Centennial Square in 2017 to help educate about the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous families.

“When I talk about that experience that I went through – not just me, but my sisters and my mom and a bunch of my uncles and aunts – I don’t tell you so that you feel sorry for me. I tell you simply because I want you to know that our people are resilient,” Sxwithul’txw said. “Don’t ever feel sorry for me. I don’t need that. I need your strength in telling this story to the next generation and that’s what she’s doing.”

RELATED: B.C. woman behind Orange Shirt Day pens new book for teachers

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to attend residential schools, and more than 6,000 didn’t survive. There are 80,000 former students alive today.

“It’s important to have Orange Shirt Day to remember residential schools so we don’t treat anyone that way again,” said nine-year-old Paetkau. “I knew we didn’t have Orange Shirt Day at my school and I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate.”

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of a commemoration event held in 2013 at St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake, B.C. It grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s story of having her new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission when she was stripped of all her clothes and culture, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion of residential schools alive annually. The date was chosen because it is the time of year when children were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools.

RELATED: ‘Every Child Matters’: Orange Shirt Day spreads awareness across B.C.

At SMUS Orange Shirt Day assembly, Paetkau told the story of Phyllis Webstad, and also performed a play with Abigail Porttris, an Indigenous Grade 2 student at SMUS, and Grade 2 teacher Nina Duffus, based on David Robertson’s book, When we were alone, about a grandmother sharing her experience of residential school. Elder Bill White and Wes Edwards opened the event with traditional songs and drumming.

On top of taking part in the assembly, Paetkau sold hundreds of homemade orange bead bracelets to raise money for a First Nations school in need, accumulating $700 which quickly became $1,400 after a commitment by an Indigenous parent at the school to double the funds raised. Paetkau was not alone in making the bracelets – friends, neighbours, family, and classmates joined in the effort and created a “little factory.”

“We taught our class to put their hands up and say Hych’ka Siem,” said Paetkau, thanking those that helped out.

RELATED: Victoria hosts Orange Shirt Day to remember residential school students

“I am extremely proud of her,” Sxwithul’txw said. “It’s something you share gingerly with your kids. My kids are very small and impressionable but at that stage where they are very curious about their dad’s history. It is really important in terms of our teachings that they are aware of their history. I give them information that promotes thought and encourages them to dig deep and ask those pivotal questions to understand how that shaped our people to where we are today.

“We carry a lot of the scars and whatnot but we are resilient. There is nothing that we can’t do. It doesn’t matter what the obstacles are. We find ways to move above and beyond that. It is about taking action and that’s what I’m trying to instill in my children – to have a voice.”


 

keri.coles@oakbaynews.com

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Grade 4 student Haley Paetkau performed a play with Abigail Porttris, an Indigenous Grade 2 student at SMUS, and Grade 2 teacher Nina Duffus, based on David Robertson’s book, When we were alone , about a grandmother sharing her experience of residential school. (Keri Coles/News Staff)

SMUS students Haley Paetkau and Abigail Porttris presenting Elder Bill White and Wes Edwards with blankets. (Keri Coles/News Staff)

Elder Bill White and Wes Edwards opening the ceremony with traditional songs and drumming. (Keri Coles/News Staff)

Indigenous SMUS students Haley Paetkau and Abigail Porttris with Elder Bill White and Wes Edwards. (Gordon Chan photo)

Bracelets made by Haley Paetkau with her friends and family to raise funds for a First Nations school in need (Gordon Chan photo)

Just Posted

Province’s oldest lawyer shares advice for living well at her 100th birthday party

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Swimmers, advocates plead to Victoria council for new Crystal Pool facility

Many swimmers dependant on the pool are afraid to be without any athletic resources

Saanich swaps last propane-powered Zamboni for electric model

Pearkes arena’s all-electric ice resurfacing fleet to reduce carbon emissions by six tonnes

PHOTOS: New BC Ferries hybrid vessels arrive in Victoria’s Inner Harbour

The ferries will run two gulf island routes in upcoming months

Victoria police seek to pilot blue-lighted vehicles for increased visibility

Police have already purchased the lights and are awaiting provincial approval

VIDEO: Mass coronavirus quarantines seen in China won’t happen in Canada, authorities say

‘If a case comes here, and it is probably … it will still be business as normal’

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Dashcam records driver’s near-miss near Sooke

Driver crossed four lanes of traffic and back over again, barely missing three other vehicles

Owner surrenders dog suffering from days-old gunshot wound to B.C. SPCA

The dog was also found to be emaciated and suffering from a flea infestation

Most Read