Phyllis' story about Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day - September 30, 2013

Written September 25th, 2013 on Coast Salish Territory, Vancouver, BC 
Communities across BC are acknowledging September 30th as Orange Shirt Day in recognition of the harm that the residential school system did to children's sense of self-esteem and well-being. It is affirmation of the commitment to ensure that all of us remember that "EVERY CHILD MATTERS.”

Phyllis’ Story

"I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974.  I had just turned six years old.  I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve.  We never had very much money, and there was no welfare, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. 

I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt.  It had eyelets and lace, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt I felt to be going to school! 

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt!   I never saw it again.  I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! 

The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared, and how I felt like I was worth nothing.  

All of us little children were crying - and no one cared.

I was 13.8 years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born.  I went to a treatment centre for healing when I was 27 and have been on this healing journey since then.  Because my grandmother and mother attended residential school, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like.  With the help of my aunt, Agness Jack, I was able to raise my son and have him know me as his mother.   

I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignifigance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way that I lived my life for many years. 

Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter.  Even with all the work I’ve done!

I am honoured to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories.  

Today Phyllis is married, has one son and two grandsons aged nine and four years old.  She is Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She comes from mixed Secwepemc and Irish/French heritage, was born in Dog Creek, BC and lives in Williams Lake, BC. 

She earned diplomas in business administration from the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology and in accounting from Thompson Rivers University.  

Her philosophy echoes the words of Karin Bird, Anishnabe:

 "I have the gift to walk with a foot in both worlds. When in the non-native world, I am able to learn those ways but my spirit will always be Secwepemc. I will teach non-native people how to understand and respect our way of life. When in my communities, my spirit will be home, but I will be able to teach us how to work in the non-native way and prosper in a system that has oppressed our people for so long.” 

Click HERE to watch a video about Phyllis and other survivors from St. Joseph's Residential School Stories on YouTube.