Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay First Nations people, allies mark Orange Shirt Day

Event raises awareness of the legacy of residential schools

Event raises awareness of the legacy of residential schools

Residential school survivors take centre stage in advance of the Orange Shirt Day walk. The Day raises awareness for the legacy of residential schools. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Wearing orange T-shirts that read "All children matter" some 200 aboriginal people and their allies walked from City Hall to Pope John Paul II Senior Elementary School in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Wednesday to raise awareness about the legacy of residential schools.

The elementary school was once the site of the St. Joseph's residential school.

"I have physical, sexual, emotional marks on me, and every time I come here that little boy wants to come out and scream and yell and strike out at authority," said 72-year-old St. Joseph's survivor Jim Chicago, as participants gathered for the walk. 

"Today I follow our way and not the Christian way, and it's helped me a lot," he said, adding he has now been married for more than 30 years and has relationships with all of his children. "I can walk around with a sort of emotional stable mind today,"

Chicago said he was participating in the walk to help pass on knowledge about residential school to younger generations. 

"For me, the walk is nothing. The pain of walking at 72-years-old is nothing compared to the pain I received at residential school," said an emotional Chicago. "So I do it for the kids."

Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said it's important for young people to understand their history.  She said the presence of youth at the walk was encouraging for survivors. 

One young person who attended, Dennis Franklin Cromarty student Breanna Meekis, said she took part because when students believe nobody cares about them, it can lead to suicide.  She said the walk was an important way to let them know people care. 

The orange T-shirts worn by participants symbolize an item of clothing worn by six-year-old Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, whose brand new orange shirt, gifted to her by her grandmother, was taken from her on her first day of residential school in British Columbia.