Meet a Middle Schooler Rallying to Honour Residential School Survivors

Haley Steve Orange Shirt Day
Grade 6 student Haley P. and her father, Steve Sxwithul'txw, a residential school survivor, sport the Orange Shirt Day T-shirt that Haley designed.

When Haley P. was a Grade 3 student, she had the idea to encourage the school to recognize Orange Shirt Day.

“I only came up with the idea on the day of Orange Shirt Day in Grade 3 so it couldn’t happen right away. I was wondering whether I should even propose the idea and if it would happen but I decided to see if I could,” she says.

Haley wanted to help raise awareness of residential schools and, at the same time, spearhead a fundraiser to support First Nations schools in BC. Her family is from the Snuneymuxw First Nation, Penelakut Tribe and Cowichan Tribes, and many of Haley’s relatives, including her father, are residential school survivors.

“I think people should know that what happened isn’t OK and I don’t think we can just ignore it. It’s a new generation [learning about it] and we can’t just let history slip by, feeling like everything was OK in the past and that we’ve moved on from it. Some people are still hurt by things that happened in the past and people need to know that,” says Haley, now in Grade 6.

Haley approached the Junior School administration with her idea, who were keen to embrace her initiative as part of our school’s journey of building an authentic relationship with our local peoples and addressing our history.

That first year, Haley, along with friends and family members, beaded orange bracelets and sold them at school. They raised $1,400 to help buy books for the Penelakut Island Elementary School library. In year two, Haley and friends sold bracelets that read “Every Child Matters,” the official slogan for Orange Shirt Day, and raised more than $2,500 for Stz’uminus Community School.

This year, Haley designed an Orange Shirt Day T-shirt based on a Cowichan sweater that her grandmother knitted.

“I thought using the pattern would be meaningful,” she says.

Haley’s father, Steve Sxwithul’txw, says, “My mom was a residential school survivor, along with most of her siblings, myself, and a few of my sisters, so it’s more of an honouring of her and the family with that particular patterns. She’d been a Cowichan knitter for 70-plus years; using one of her original patterns is a way of honouring grandma.” Money raised through Haley’s T-shirt sales will go to Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh Community School.

Below the pattern, the shirt reads: Every Child Loved and Protected.

Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 to raise awareness around the past existence and current impact of residential schools. The inspiration for the orange shirt comes from a story told by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad who had her new orange shirt, her back-to-school outfit, taken away from her as a six-year-old on her first day of school in 1973.

“Thank you to Phyllis Webstad who started this movement. Without her, none of this awareness of the history would be happening,” Steve says.

Adds Haley: “This is about honouring residential school survivors and letting people know that we shouldn’t do anything like that ever again.”


SMUS will mark Orange Shirt Day on September 30, alongside communities across Canada.

Proceeds from shirt sales go the Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh Community School, which is a partnership between the province’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District and the Snuneymuxv First Nation. The school blends traditional First Nations teachings with the latest technology.

The shirts cost $15 each and are available through the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools. Please note that although we will do our best to meet demand, our supplies are limited. If you want to contribute more than $15 to support the Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh Community School, you are welcome to do so.

SMUS is highlighting First Nations values and culture, and Orange Shirt Day in chapel at all three schools. We’d like to offer thanks to students Will C., Markus D., Avery G., Chelsea L., Haley P., Abi P., Harris R., Grace V. and Dewi W. for their contributions to these chapels. We would also like to thank Coast Salish elder Bill White for his support and contributions.

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