We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

This image has an empty alt attribute, its filename is Alice-Rosypskye-1.png
Back to Newsroom

Truth and Reconciliation: Behind the Orange Shirt

Priscillia Mays Tait
Writer, Visual Storyteller

This image has an empty alt attribute, its filename is Alice-Rosypskye-1.png

Sept. 30 is Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — the country’s newest federal statutory holiday.

It is meant to honour Indigenous children who never returned home from residential schools and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.

The last day of September is also Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led movement started by Phyllis (Jack) Webstad to raise awareness of the inter-generational harms of residential schools while promoting the concept of “Every Child Matters.”

But real truth and reconciliation involves more than donning an orange shirt or taking a day off work. First up, is facing hard truths.

To that end, Megaphone writer and photographer Priscillia Mays Tait (Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en) recently sat down with a few community members to bear witness to some difficult memories.

The conversations hit close to home. Priscillia’s late paternal grandparents, Sarah (Babine, Wet’suwet’en) and Thomas Tait (Gitxsan), attended Lejac Residential School. 

Alice Rosypskye (nicknamed ‘Puddie ‘by her stepdad) Heiltsuk Nation (Bella Bella)

Alice was just five or six when she was taken from her parents and sent to residential school. She remembers that she tried to hang on to her mother’s dress and felt bad when it ripped. She cried hard as people hurriedly took her to the steamboat. Her journey ended at St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay, B.C. She was one of several girls and boys who couldn’t stop crying for the first few days there. She remembers things done to her there that she still finds difficult to talk about.”

“Still, to this day, we need counselling,” she says. “When they finally sent us home, I was so angry that I wanted to beat all the white people up for what they did to us at school.”

Alice eventually realized she was taking it out on every white person. She apologized, and they said they were sorry for what happened to her, and forgave her for what she said to them.

Alice is now 82 years old.

“I’m just proud of how my grandchildren are growing up. They always call me Nanny and remind me they still love me. I told them about the residential school and they just cried along with me. I think they are in a better place where they are now because they understand more of what’s going on with the stupid government. They think about it and they said they would fight, they wouldn’t be put away anymore.” Alice remains active in her community. “I enjoy coming to Carnegie because there are things that I like to do. They show us what to do and they have a lot of crafts.” 

Mandy Nahanee /Shamantsut (Rise Above) / Lady Sinncere Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish) and Nisga’a

If we were in this reconciled place, it would be a place where nobody was poor, nobody was starving, nobody was without a home.

Mandy Nahanee

Mandy’s father went to St. Paul’s Indian day school, as did four of his siblings. His other four siblings went to full-time residential school and he did not get to know them until they finally came home. The day school in North Vancouver was a violent place and Mandy is still waiting for family members to feel like they can share what happened there.

Her mother grew up and went to day school in the Nass Valley. She said she didn’t experience any negativity, or any bad things. It was a positive experience for her. This was because when children had begun coming back hurt from residential school, the Nisga’a people there started working with the church and the Salvation Army, agreeing to have the children attend day school and learn that way of life, so that they would not be taken away and abused.

Mandy’s father and mother worked hard to make sure their children grew up with their culture, knowing who they were and where they came from.

“We didn’t grow up with the language. We had to work hard to learn our language,” Mandy says.

As for truth and reconciliation, Mandy says this: “If everybody did their part, we would not have murdered and missing Indigenous women, we would not have our children taken away by the ministry of child and family services. There’s tons and tons of First Nations that can really use donations. The Vancouver School Board and Vancouver school trustees donated an old school to Squamish Nation.

“This building is going to house our Squamish language baby program, for ages up to four years old. That is one, true active reconciliation, a permanent place for our babies to go to learn the culture, who they are, where they come from, give the foundation of who they are and give that really good start that they deserve.

“This misconception of Indigenous Peoples is if we get our land back, we’re going to kick people out. That’s not how Native people are. We’re giving, we’re caring. We don’t want anyone to suffer, we don’t want anybody homeless, we don’t want anybody poor. It’s just what we do, we take care of each other. So I think if we were in this reconciled place, it would be a place where nobody was poor, nobody was starving, nobody was without a home. Everybody would have a place, and a duty and a responsibility to upkeep and uphold each other with respect and dignity and integrity.”

Sim’oogit: T’am Yee Smax. Sam McKay Nisga’a Nation, village of Laxgaltsap (Greenville)

‘It’s just history

repeating itself in a

different form.’

Sam was taken from his home to Prince Rupert. His siblings were sent to Alert Bay residential school while all Sam knew was that he was taking a train ride without them. Only when he got to Edmonton did he realize he was to attend residential school there, experiencing years of physical and mental abuse, including much corporal punishment. It wasn’t until he was 16 that they let him go.

“I was toughened up in residential school,” Sam says. “I just carried on to skid row where I was again mixed up in rough stuff. It didn’t really bother me because I already went through the tough stuff in residential school. I was super independent, and I was also a belligerent little guy, getting mixed up into crowds. I was even in Red Power, then later switched to American Indian Movement. I tell you it wasn’t fun. People were doing drugs and we had knives, we had guns and all that.

But I managed to get out of that situation and carried on being a drunk for a few more years. That was because I was sexually abused in residential school.” But Sam says he survived.

“I’m still here today. So it’s just a new way of life today. Big change.”

As for truth and reconciliation, Sam says this: “Whatever went on in history with our people and the kids still carries on today through social services or health and welfare. They’re still taking our kids away. It’s just history repeating itself in a different form. We’re still struggling, you know. We’re not quite seen as civil people.  “History’s hard to make, and this is history we’re dealing with. We’ll just have to see where it goes, that’s all, and most of this generation will probably be gone by the time things happen. I think it’s going to be the new generation carrying it on.

“As far as the younger generation is concerned, I think it’s very important to start talking about a lot of things so they learn as they go on and pass it down to their kids. It’s just got to be put in such a way that everybody understands, and things like racism and stuff like that sort of dissipate, hopefully. It’s not going to happen right away, but it’s up to our kids, too. And it’s up to us to spearhead all that, to start it and really teach our kids.”

‘They have to learn

the dark, ugly truth so

that we can all move

forward from it.’

Carleen Thomas (ancestral name Unsakholate) Tsleil-Wautath Nation (People of the Inlet)

Carleen’s parents and her paternal grandparents attended the St. Paul’s Indian residential school in North Vancouver. When her dad came home for the summer after Grade 1 or 2, his mother recognized that something was wrong, so his father took their two boys out of residential school. They were the first ones to go to public school. That was in the late 1940s.

The abuse Carleen’s dad experienced in residential school led to alcoholism later in life and his children suffered the effects of it for awhile. When they began having children of their own, he turned his life around because he wanted to make sure he was present for his grandchildren as they grew up.

Carleen considers herself fortunate that her parents sent their children to public school in North Vancouver, and that she had a strong mother and grandmothers during her formative years. Her strict but loving grandparents taught her “so much about sharing our teachings, our history and our knowledge”.

Carleen points out that to reconcile means to make right a relationship.

“It only really came to the forefront and became real for a lot of Canadians at the discovery of the 215 little souls at Tk’emlups, at the Kamloops Indian residential school. Those were children’s unmarked graves that they found, and I think it really touched the heart and the consciousness of the Canadian people. So you know, they have to learn that dark, ugly truth so that we can all move forward from it.

“If you have an Indigenous friend now, you’ve got to understand they’re either a residential school survivor or they’re a descendant of a residential school survivor. Just about every Native in Canada is impacted by that residential school system and that was a system created by the government and the church.

“Our societies had systems in place that served us well for millennia. In our societies we don’t break things apart and put them in silos. We all depend and work together. Indigenous Peoples have laws that show us how to coexist with one another and take care of one another.”

Despite her upbringing, Carleen herself did not become an alcoholic.

“I went back to church in my late teens and did ministry with our communities for a number of years. My family life has always been based in spiritualness. We do follow our Coastal Salish ways now. I think that’s how we dealt with the effects. We are always in prayer.

Filed under: Community

Stories of change are best when shared

From social media to texting to email, consider sharing links to the Megaphone stories that move you—so that we can all move forward.

Priscillia Mays Tait

Priscillia Mays Tait

Writer, Visual Storyteller

Priscillia Mays Tait is a proud Babine, Gitsxan, and mostly Wet'suwet'en mother, as well as a gifted writer, photographer, performer, artist, dancer and community activist. She has been a vendor with Megaphone for nearly 10 years, Her work has been published in Megaphone’s monthly magazine, annual Voices of the Street literary anthology and yearly Hope in Shadows calendar numerous times. Her frequent motto: Hug a tree.

What Sets our Newsroom Apart

Rooted in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, we're committed to amplifying voices that are overlooked by mainstream media. We’re actively growing our team of storytellers and journalists to serve our community.

More about our Peer Newsroom

“Why "The Shift?" So the framework of Megaphone magazine can “shift” to being a more inclusive street paper, empowering those with lived and living experience to tell the stories that matter the most to them and their communities.”

Paula Carlson Editorial and Program Director

Sign up for community news you can't get anywhere else


Support our work to change the story on poverty

Your donation directly amplifies marginalized voices and creates meaningful work opportunities for our vendors and storytellers.

Donate today