Embracing Truth and Reconciliation: Remembering Phyllis Webstad's Story

Embracing Truth and Reconciliation: Remembering Phyllis Webstad's Story

Embracing Truth and Reconciliation: Remembering Phyllis Webstad's Story

As a privileged white woman, I recognize the importance of acknowledging my privilege before delving into the stories and experiences of others. Today, on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, we have a unique opportunity to reflect on the painful history endured by Indigenous peoples and work towards healing and understanding. While I may not relate to these traumas generationally, it is crucial that I lend my voice to amplify the stories of those who have suffered. In that spirit, I would like to share the powerful story of Phyllis Webstad and the significance of the orange shirt—a poignant symbol that has come to represent the resilience and strength of Indigenous communities.

Phyllis Webstad and the Orange Shirt:

Phyllis Webstad, a member of the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation in British Columbia, experienced the devastating impact of the Canadian residential school system. At the tender age of six, Phyllis was taken from her family and sent to the St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake in 1973. It was here that she was stripped of her identity, culture, and dignity.

On her first day of school, Phyllis vividly remembers wearing a shiny new orange shirt that her grandmother had lovingly gifted her. However, upon arrival, the school staff forcibly removed her cherished shirt, leaving her with a plain institutional uniform. The heart-wrenching experience of having her orange shirt taken away symbolized the dehumanization and erasure of her Indigenous identity.

The Legacy of the Orange Shirt:

Phyllis Webstad's story and the orange shirt have become powerful symbols of the resilience and determination of Indigenous communities to reclaim their cultural heritage, restore dignity, and heal from the intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system. In 2013, Phyllis's experience inspired the Orange Shirt Day movement, an annual event held on September 30th to honour the survivors and remember those who were lost.

Wearing an orange shirt on this day signifies our commitment to acknowledging the painful history of residential schools, fostering reconciliation, and supporting the healing journey of Indigenous peoples. It is a visible reminder that every child matters and that we must strive for a more inclusive and equitable future.

10 Tips for Engaging in Discussions on Truth for Reconciliation:

1. Educate yourself: 

Take the time to learn about the history and ongoing impacts of residential schools and Indigenous rights in Canada.

2. Listen attentively: 

Actively listen to the stories and experiences of Indigenous individuals and communities.

3. Respect cultural protocols: 

Be mindful of cultural protocols and practices when engaging with Indigenous cultures.

4. Use inclusive and respectful language: 

Avoid derogatory terms and stereotypes, and use inclusive language when referring to Indigenous peoples and communities.

5. Support Indigenous businesses and initiatives: 

Seek out and support Indigenous-owned businesses, artists, and organizations.

6. Advocate for change: 

Use your voice and privilege to advocate for policies and initiatives that promote justice, equality, and reconciliation.

7. Reflect on your own biases: 

Take time to reflect on your own biases and privilege, and be open to challenging and unlearning harmful beliefs.

8. Engage in allyship: 

Stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities and actively work towards dismantling systemic barriers.

9. Teach children about Indigenous cultures: 

Educate children about the rich diversity and history of Indigenous cultures and foster respect and appreciation for their contributions to Canadian society.

10. Create a safe space for dialogue: 

Foster open and respectful conversations within your family and social circles about truth and reconciliation. Encourage questions, empathy, and a willingness to learn from one another.

Here are ten conversation starters to help facilitate discussions about truth and reconciliation at your family dinner:

  1. "Today is National Truth and Reconciliation Day. Have any of you heard about it before? What do you understand about truth and reconciliation in the context of Indigenous communities in Canada?"

  1. "I recently learned about Phyllis Webstad's story and the significance of the orange shirt. What are your thoughts on how symbols like the orange shirt can bring attention to important historical events and promote healing?"

  1. "What do you think about the impact of residential schools on Indigenous communities and the intergenerational trauma that has resulted from them?"

  1. "How can we, as a family, contribute to the process of truth and reconciliation? Are there any actions or initiatives we can take to support Indigenous communities?"

  1. "Do you think our education system adequately covers the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada? How can we help raise awareness and promote a more inclusive curriculum?"

  1. "What are some stereotypes or misconceptions you've heard about Indigenous cultures? How can we challenge and dispel these stereotypes?"

  1. "Have you ever visited an Indigenous community or participated in any cultural events or ceremonies? How did that experience impact your understanding of Indigenous cultures?"

  1. "What steps can we take as a family to be better allies to Indigenous communities? How can we use our privilege to support their rights and promote equality?"

  1. "Are there any Indigenous artists, authors, or activists whose work has inspired you? How can we amplify their voices and support their endeavours?"

  1. "How do you think we can create a more inclusive and equitable society for all, including Indigenous peoples? What changes can we make in our own lives to contribute to this goal?"

Remember, these conversations should be approached with respect, empathy, and a willingness to listen and learn from one another. They provide an opportunity for growth, understanding, and building stronger connections as a family.

By embracing these tips and engaging in meaningful discussions, we can contribute to the collective efforts of truth and reconciliation. Remember, it is an ongoing journey that requires continuous learning, introspection, and action.


As a privileged white woman, I recognize the importance of acknowledging the systemic injustices faced by Indigenous communities in Canada. Phyllis Webstad's story and the symbolism of the orange shirt remind us of the resilience, strength, and determination of Indigenous peoples to reclaim their identities and heal from the traumatic legacy of residential schools. On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, let us come together to listen, learn, and support the path toward reconciliation with compassion and empathy.

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