Orange Shirt Day, now a national day of remembrance recognized Sept. 30, gains its name from the story of the orange shirt taken from Phyllis Webstad on her first day at residential school.
Her heart-wrenching and poignant story has inspired many across the province and country and around the world to engage in conversation about the realities of residential school and the wider historical marginalization of Indigenous peoples.
Now Webstad has decided to reach an even bigger audience with her book The Orange Shirt Story.
“It tells the story of the orange shirt, how my grandmother brought me to town to buy me something to wear on my first day of Indian Residential School and I chose a shiny orange shirt,” Webstad said. “Then when I got to the residential school it was taken away and I never did wear it again. The book tells about the stuff I went through, and my experiences that year and then finally getting to go back home to granny at the end.”
Roughly 30 pages long with illustrations done by Ottawa-based illustrator Brock Nicol, The Orange Shirt Story is written to be an educational tool used in classrooms, Webstad said. To that end, editions are available in English, French and Secwepemc (Shuswap), while her book tour has a heavy focus on going directly to young people at school.
Opening with a book launch in Kamloops on Sept. 4, so far Webstad said she has travelled to schools in Kelowna, Vancouver, Victoria and Langley before returning to Kamloops this week and finishing in Clinton on the Sept. 28.
Having taken a three-month leave of absence from her work, Webstad will be heading to Alberta and Northern B.C. in October and will conclude her tour back in the Cariboo at Quesnel in November. She said that it’s very emotionally hard to do the tour, as she averages two schools a day, presenting at one big assembly before talking with two classes at each.
“I always had trouble talking, when I would speak at elementary schools, to the little ones. So my book is geared towards the elementary age, but it will be used, I think, in every grade, any grade really, because it’s a good conversation starter on residential schools,” Webstad explained.
Webstad said that the history of residential schools is not just First Nations history, but rather is Canadian history.
She feels that everybody in Canada, be they adults or children, need to learn about what happened at these schools. The Orange Shirt Story, Webstad said, can be read as the story of every residential school survivor and, according to what some survivors have said to her, gives them a little justice in their lifetime.
Ideally, Webstad hopes her book will help influence and change society for the better when it comes to the treatment of the next generation of First Nations youth.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to educate Canadians about the First People’s, whose land that they reside on,” Webstad said.
Orange Shirt Day celebrations will take place across the country Friday.