“We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.” – Justice Murray Sinclair, Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As a highly inclusive educational community, Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School has progressed over the past few years to become a leader in promoting Indigenous Awareness across the Niagara Catholic District School Board as well as the surrounding Niagara region. Officially initiated in 2013, the Orange Shirt Day movement has annually been used as a tool to honour the survivors of the residential school system every September 30th.

Participants are called upon to wear an orange shirt, bringing to mind Phyllis Webstad’s experience of having her new shirt confiscated and replaced with a uniform on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School. Blessed Trinity has promoted this movement every year since 2015, continuing to show respect towards the surrounding Niagara Indigenous communities. All students are called upon to come to school wearing an orange shirt, as well as to provide a monetary donation of at least $1 that is donated to the Woodland Cultural Centre located in Six Nations, to preserve the evidence of residential schools.

For a week leading up to Orange Shirt Day, daily announcements are carried out to provide information on the past history of the residential school system and to promote the event. Making these announcements and other event responsibilities is the responsibility of the First Nations/Metis/Inuit, Equity and Advocate for Those Who Need a Voice Representative from Blessed Trinity’s Student Council.

This role is a recent creation that was implemented in the 2016/2017 school year, the individual holding this position serves to look after social justice programs at the school, to set a positive example of conduct for others and to look out for the needs and opinions of the student body. Blessed Trinity’s Orange Shirt Day is organized by Tony Gambale; staff advisor for Indigenous education.  The annual celebration of Orange Shirt Day has allowed the entire student body to become aware of a specific Indigenous issue that continues to be prevalent within today’s Canadian society, inspiring further research into the current condition of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.

As the poor past treatment and current situation of Indigenous peoples is not known to many, it is important that the community promote school-wide events addressing Indigenous issues that are accessible to students of all ages. To further promote the goal of making all students aware of the legacy of residential schools, last year’s student council representative created an artistic video to be played for all of the Niagara Catholic District School Board’s students on Orange Shirt Day. As the first student to fill this role, Aaron Parry used his artistic skills to create an engaging and informative video that was played all across the school board, successfully bringing the issue into the classroom setting for all secondary schools and some elementary schools.

As the movement continues, the awareness gained in the previous year is brought back by returning the student body and is introduced to new students, increasing the amount of students wearing orange shirts as each year progresses. As an important cause created by the Indigenous community, Orange Shirt Day has been fostered by both students and faculty at Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School. It is vital that we not only bring awareness to the new generations, but also to those who have lived during the era of residential schools and have remained unaware until now. Blessed Trinity has clearly taken initiative and reflects the emerging movement involving the promotion of Indigenous culture and issues by non-Indigenous communities all across Canada. We call upon the surrounding community outside of our school to continue to take part in this movement, year after year, and to show respect for the survivors of residential schools. With respect and great honour, Blessed Trinity continues to nurture the belief that “EVERY CHILD MATTERS.”

Many thanks to Hannah Whitelaw for organizing this day. We sold out of the 59 shirts and are proud to say that we raised an additional $500 which will be awarded to the Save the Evidence Campaign at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford.

Article by: Tony Gambale, Blessed Trinity Catholic SS