The Children Who Never Came Home

The Paris Museum will be closed on Thursday, September 30th out of respect for the thousands of indigenous children who died or were abused in government-sponsored residential schools.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which became a statutory holiday this year, was originally known by aboriginal peoples as “Orange Shirt Day.”

For the past eight years, indigenous people have worn orange shirts on September 30th in honour of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc from the Stswecem’s Wgat’tem First Nation in British Columbia. The young girl arrived for her first day of school, proudly wearing a new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother. “They stripped me, took away my clothes including the orange shirt. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me,” she wrote years later in Phyllis’s Orange Shirt.

Between 1831 and 1998, there were 140 federal residential schools in Canada. An estimated 4,100 indigenous children died in these institutions. To date, 1,300 unmarked children’s graves have been found on the sites of sites of residential schools.

Given the scope of the tragedy, closing the museum for a day seemed insufficient to a handful of PMHS volunteers. So they brought in, bought or borrowed a handful items showcasing the voices, culture and craftsmanship of First Nations to create a temporary exhibit. The exhibit features a pair of
indigenous-made moccasins, an orange t-shirt, three books by indigenous writers, a signed poem by author and performer Pauline Johnson, as well as various maps and written material.

The exhibit will run from now until early October.

Each year, PMHS will revive the exhibit, making it more rich, more authentic and more informative.

– Carol Goar