Sault College staff and students gathered at Enji Maawnjiding Friday morning for Orange Shirt Day, an annual event across Canada meant to acknowledge survivors of the residential school system.
While the majority of Orange Shirt Day events take place on September 30, many organizations opted to host events on Friday.
“Today and every day we encourage everyone to reflect on the important history and legacy of residential schools. Through days like Orange Shirt Day, we’re able to hear stories from those most impacted by residential schools,” said Sault College president Dr. Ron Common in a press release. “These experiences not only help us to learn and grow, but also allows us to teach others so together we can continue to move along a journey of healing and reconciliation.”
The event was highlighted by guest speaker Sharon ‘Dolly’ Syrette, who survived Shingwauk Indian Residential School.
After sharing her experiences at the school, Syrette shared two of her poems from her book, Feelings for Life, that was released in 2015.
“When they [residential school survivors] first started telling their stories, I couldn’t do that,” Syrette told SooToday. “I still had the thought of, ‘I was lucky because I got to go home.’”
“But then thinking about it and all their stories, their stories were similar to my story. So that’s when I put my collection together.”
Her collection of poetry reflects on personal experiences throughout her life, including her time attending residential school.
“This has helped me,” said Syrette. “This has given me strength to go out there and say, ‘hey, the real history has to be told,’ and with not very many survivors left, we still have something to say.”
The following is a poem written by Syrette, and was read by the author during Friday’s Orange Shirt Day event at Sault College:
The Children of Shingwauk
- Dedicated to the ones that never made it back home -
To the ones that didn’t make it
my sorrow goes deep
but your memory
will never be forgotten.
We cry for you.
We mourn for you
but it has given us strength
to keep on surviving.
has given us a path.
It may be rocky and rough
but the rewards are priceless
for we got to live.
The sisters and brothers
who were our family
will live on in our hearts
and they will forever
walk by our side
and guide us on our journey.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit children went through the residential school system.
The last residential school to operate, located outside of Regina, Sask., closed its doors in 1996.