Phyllis Webstad’s recent did more than bring her powerful message to Niagara College in September. The founder of the Orange Shirt Day movement’s powerful message in pursuit of truth and reconciliation for the Indigenous Peoples of Canada has inspired a new scholarship to support NC’s Indigenous students at the College, which has been established in her honour.
NC’s new Dr. Phyllis Webstad Indigenous Scholarship to support Indigenous students during was announced on September 22, when Webstad visited the Daniel J. Patterson Campus for a speaking event that drew hundreds from the College community.
Initiated by Indigenous Education at NC, the new scholarship is a tribute to Webstad’s momentous visit and her important work through the Orange Shirt movement. It is intended to recognize Webstad’s name as well as her story of strength and resilience, which have not only inspired the community to give, but will be meaningful for future scholarship recipients.
“Thanks to the Dr. Phyllis Webstad Indigenous Scholarship, more Indigenous students will receive the support they need to achieve their dreams,” said NC President Sean Kennedy. “We are proud to name this scholarship in Phyllis’ honour, in recognition of her tireless pursuit of truth and reconciliation for the Indigenous peoples of Canada through the Orange Shirt movement.”
The scholarship announcement was met with applause and was well received by Webstad who thanked the College.
“It was education that got us into this mess and education will get us out of it,” said Webstad, paraphrasing a quote from Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Murray Sinclair, regarding education being the key to reconciliation.
While an initial fundraising goal was set for $20,000 to launch the scholarship, total funds raised exceeded expectations at more than $41,000. Contributors include CIBC, Scotiabank, Niagara Community Foundation, United Way Niagara, OPSEU Local 242, and individual donors from the community.
To start, four students will receive a $1,000 scholarship every year, beginning fall 2023.
Fundraising is still underway, with a goal to grow the Dr. Phyllis Webstad Indigenous Scholarship until it can be offered to every Indigenous student entering NC.
Students may apply for the new scholarship, through the Financial Aid section of the NC website. They will be asked to submit a written statement outlining how the scholarship would assist them, and recipients will be selected by a team of College representatives from Indigenous Education and Financial Aid.
Those who wish to contribute to the Dr. Phyllis Webstad Indigenous Scholarship at NC are asked to visit donate.niagaracollege.ca.
Beyond the Orange Shirt Story
Webstad, the Founder and Ambassador of the Orange Shirt Day movement, visited NC’s Daniel J. Patterson in Niagara-on-the-Lake on September 22 to share her story with students, staff and faculty – many were clad in orange as a show of support.
“As a long-time supporter of Orange Shirt Day, we were thrilled to welcome Phyllis to NC to share her powerful messages with our College community,” said Kennedy. “Phyllis inspires us to open our minds and our hearts – to strive to learn more about the devastating impacts of the residential school system in Canada, to consider new perspectives, and to continue engaging with truth and reconciliation initiatives, while honouring residential school victims and survivors.”
A survivor from St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School (Williams Lake, B.C.), Webstad has made it her mission to honour survivors of the Indian residential school system – including intergenerational survivors – and to remember the children who never made it home.
Webstad spoke about the impacts of the residential school system in Canada and the origins and importance of Orange Shirt Day, which coincides with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation later this month. She read an excerpt from one of her books, Beyond the Orange Shirt Story, and recounted her first day at residential school as a six-year-old girl, when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her.
“It didn’t matter how much I protested or told them I wanted it back. They didn’t’ listen. This was the beginning of that feeling like I didn’t matter,” she said.
The feeling went on to inspire the slogan, ‘every child matters.’
“That’s where ‘every child matters’ comes from … we could be sick, hungry, lonely, sad, and it didn’t matter, our feelings didn’t matter,” said Webstad, who pointed out that today’s survivors are now adults and elders, “but they were children then.”
Family and friends travelling with Webstad’s group – including her mother Rose Jack and her aunt Theresa Jack – spoke out about how their experiences at residential schools severely impacted their lives. Another member of Webstad’s group, Ron Murphy, spoke of how bullying and sexual abuse he faced at residential school led him to life on the streets as a young teen, and the challenges he faced as a male survivor.
Jamie Consoli, Indigenous Counsellor, Health, Wellness and Accessibility, was instrumental to Webstad’s visit to the College and spoke at the event. Consoli was excited and honoured that Webstad reached out with an interest in visiting NC.
“Not only has her story has inspired so many, but it is a conversation starter to spread awareness on the impacts of the residential school system,” said Consoli. “As Indigenous faculty at NC, the opportunity to meet her and hear her speak is one in a million.”
In addition to her speaking event, Webstad met with Indigenous students during her time at the College and visited the on-campus Indigenous Garden where a Norway spruce was planted in her honour.
Webstad’s visit to NC kicked off several events where she spoke across Niagara, including an Orange Shirt Day Recognition of Survivors event to be held at Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls on September 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, which was attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
For information about Webstad or Orange Shirt Day visit orangeshirtday.org. The site also features a list of official orange shirt suppliers which help to support Indigenous communities or organizations.