Winnipeg school apologizes for handing out white shirts before Orange Shirt Day

A Winnipeg father hopes his daughter’s school does more to learn about reconciliation after it walked back plans to have students wear white shirts the day before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“I feel like a little bit of a win. But I don’t have good conscience and good faith in the school moving forward. I think there still needs to be a lot more changes implemented in the structure of their schooling,” said Daniel Johnson, whose eight-year-old daughter attends Windsor School. 

Last week, he said the school sent home white shirts for the students to wear in celebration of its 100th year anniversary on Sept. 29, the day students typically wear orange as there is no school on Friday.

Johnson said the decision of what colour of shirt to wear that day shouldn’t have been put on the students, and his daughter came home in tears over it.

“She felt if she wore the orange T-shirt which she felt was right, she felt some of her friends would be wearing the white T-shirt and she actually felt like she wouldn’t be able to play with the other kids because of this,” said Johnson. 

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, or Orange Shirt Day, honours the thousands who died in federally funded, church-run boarding schools and is a time for people to reflect on the harms of residential schools on Indigenous children.

Earlier this week, Johnson and his wife complained to the school’s principal and the Louis Riel School Division and when nothing changed, went to the media with their story. 

In an email to parents on Tuesday afternoon, the principal of Windsor School apologized for sending out the white shirts.

“We now see that providing a T-shirt in a colour other than orange for students to wear on Sept. 29, a day reserved for recognizing Orange Shirt Day in schools, created harm in our community,” wrote Darren Baker, adding students will be encouraged to wear orange on Thursday.

He said the intention behind the 100th anniversary shirts was to create a sense of belonging and community and included consultation with members of the Indigenous Education team, but after listening to voices in the community, he understands for some, those actions accomplished the opposite.

“Reconciliation begins with truth, and this has been an opportunity for me to gain more understanding through a deeper dialogue,” he wrote.

Indigenous community ‘needs to be recognized’: parent

Johnson says he spoke out because his family is mixed-race and there isn’t a lot of diverse representation at the school and he felt it was the right thing to do. 

“They need our support. We have a huge Indigenous community here in Manitoba and it needs to be recognized,” he said. 

The principal wrote Sept. 29 will be a chance to reflect on the past 100 years of Windsor School as a community and envisioning the next 100 years together — which Johnson still feels misses the point.

“There’s 365 days in the year to be able to celebrate this one in particular day. It doesn’t need to be grouped in with a celebration when it’s a day of recognizing and understanding what needs to happen moving forward.”

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