Orange Shirt Day hears the story of a residential school survivor

Supporters of Orange Shirt Day: Attendees at the Orange Shirt Day event on Oct. 2, in Macdonald Hall at SAIT. (Photo by Amber Sugai/The Press)

On Oct. 2, Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor, visited SAIT to tell her story.

Webstad spoke at Macdonald Hall, telling her story and raising awareness of the impact on indigenous Canadians of residential schools

Webstad attended the St. Joseph Mission school from 1973-74, on the Dog Creek Reserve, in the B.C. interior.

She was six years old when she first attended the school.

When Webstad was getting ready to attend the school, her grandmother bought her a new, bright orange shirt.

“It was so bright and exciting, just like I felt to be going to school,” Webstad told her audience of about 20 people.

Upon her arrival at the school, the shirt was taken from Webstad and she never wore it again.

At that age, Webstad had no understanding of why the school took away her shirt.

From that day on, the colour orange reminds her of how her feelings didn’t matter and how nobody cared.

“I felt like I was worth nothing,” said Webstad.

While attending residential school, it became a place where Webstad would sleep and eat, and go to class.

On Sundays, they had to attend church wearing their uniforms and that was the only day they would wear uniforms.

St. Joseph Mission also separated the boys, on the right side of the building, and the girls on the left. Webstad referred to the separation as the “invisible line.”

Webstad is the third generation of her family to attend St. Joseph’s.

When Webstad’s grandmother attended, there was a fence dividing the boys and the girls.

The boys and the girls were not allowed to interact with each other and neither were siblings allowed to say hello or acknowledge each other.

Her grandmother, mother, and Webstad’s son have also attended residential school.

Webstad’s grandmother and mother went to St. Josephs when the school did not care about the well-being of the children.

Her grandmother, who attended the school for 10 months out of the year, for 10 years, was kidnapped from her home and forced into the school.

When it came to her mother, Webstad’s grandmother was told she had to give up the children or the RCMP would arrest her, and the children would still be sent to the residential school.

Webstad had a rough time growing up after the attending residential school since it changed her forever.

“I never fully recovered from it,” said Webstad.

Webstad’s grandmother raised her but the family attended residential school and were taught to hide their emotions.

As she was growing up, Webstad said she was never shown the love and affection most children receive.

When Webstad was 14 years old in Grade 8, she had a son and with help from her aunt, she was able to raise him.

She said that that experience taught her it was okay to hug and love people.

Webstad told the group that it is important for people to know about the effect residential schools had on people and why it is important for others to know they are not alone.

“It’s time for us to talk, time for us to be who we were meant to be,” said Webstad.

Phyllis Webstads’ story: Phyllis Webstad speaks about attending residential school on Oct. 2, at SAIT. Webstad attended St. Joesph Misson School from 1973-1974 and was the third generation in her family to attend. (Photo by Amber Sugai/The Press)