Community comes together in song and dance for Orange Shirt Day

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, is Sept. 30.
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Above: After a ‘Sister Song’ is performed, hands are placed on a drum together. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

Jamiann S’eitlin Hasselquist explained the significance of Orange Shirt Day.

“So, Orange Shirt Day are the Juneau community events and open to everyone. Everyone’s encouraged and invited to attend,” she said. “Orange Shirt Day is an International Day of Remembrance for the children who were forcefully taken to residential boarding school institutions in order to assimilate them into Western European American culture. And so it’s an international day to come together and have some truth-speaking, and some community healing.”

The night before Orange Shirt Day, the community gathered at Harborview Elementary School from 5 to 8 p.m. There was an Indigenous market, crafting tables, and orange shirts available for purchase.

On the morning of Sept. 30, community members gathered at the Mendenhall Wetlands on Egan Highway to raise community awareness. A group of people, dressed in bright, neon orange gathered with drums and banners to wave at passing cars.

“We really want to focus on celebrating who we are today,” Hasselquist said.

She also shared which organizations helped organize the community events. Locally, the events have been happening for three years to recognize Orange Shirt Day.

“This year is with Haa Tóoch Lichéesh and we have some sponsors, the Juneau School District of course with Harborview and Juneau Montessori School,” she said. “Tlingit & Haida sponsored, and Goldbelt Heritage this year. But the heavy-lifting work for these events has been with Haa Tóoch Lichéesh, and it’s just really been so wonderful.”

Cathy Walling serves as the co-clerk for the Alaska Quakers Seeking Right Relationships committee of the Alaska Friends Conference.

She said she became involved with Orange Shirt Day last year when they learned the event was going to be happening where the historical Douglas Friends boarding school was. Members of the Alaska Friends Conference offered a community apology for the Quakers’ roles in boarding schools after being invited by Hasselquist.

“A couple of us were able to jump on a plane with about 24-hours notice to be here,” Walling said.

She shared why she thinks Orange Shirt Day is important.

“I think it’s really calling forward learning this history and these truths of Alaska Native people who are present-day survivors, as well as their descendants, many of whom are living within generational traumas as a result of their ancestors attending boarding schools,” she said. “Really appreciating the important step of truth providing as an important step in that journey towards healing and transformation.”