Senior Manager EDI and Indigeneity recounts the Intergenerational March to Commemorate Orange Shirt Day
Dana-Lyn Mackenzie is a member of the Hwlitsum First Nation, based in Canoe Pass, BC. She is Senior Manager of EDI and Indigeneity for the Faculty of Applied Science, and she is a driving force behind the Intergenerational March to Commemorate Orange Shirt Day, along with her co-organizer Danilo Caron.
October 17, 2022
On September 30th, I woke up to fog and mist in Delta, where I live. I woke my youngest daughter and we quickly got ready. It was Orange Shirt Day. I fed my pets and then drove with my daughter and her friend to UBC. Both girls had offered to help and participate in the event. When we arrived at UBC, the day was sunny and bright. When you are planning an event, having the weather cooperate is great!
My two young helpers worked with me to load a wagon with our Orange Shirt Day signs, cases of water, gift bags, hand sanitizer and paper towels. I added high visibility vests for volunteers. I also had my speaking notes and various forms. I popped on my woven cedar hat and the three of us, all wearing our orange shirts, jumped into action.
We hauled everything down to the front of the Kaiser building. There, we met the first group of student and staff volunteers from STEM faculties, Geering Up and the Ceremonies and Events office. My co-organizer, Danilo Caron, was also there. The Engineering cairn was painted orange with the words, “Every Child Matters” in white at the top. During the night, some words had been added, supporting Indigenous rights. Supporters had also decorated the ground and official signs along Main Mall with orange handprints. I worried my office would be billed for the clean up! I hoped my colleagues knew my team would not paint on signs without permission.
Danilo had prepped the volunteers beforehand and everything went smoothly. The Intergenerational March signs were placed, and the cairn had a painting station for folks to add handprints or messages of solidarity. We made sure the station was equipped with paper towels, hand sanitizer, and a bucket for washing up.
Then, my phone began ringing and did not stop. The food trucks had arrived, an Elder was on her way, and other volunteers were stationed in the Lee Plaza to meet security who would lower the bollards at the entrance to the plaza and let the food trucks in. The bookstore trailer was due to arrive at the plaza as well.
Our next stop was to meet colleagues at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC). We pulled our now less full wagon down Main Mall and arrived outside the IRSHDC. More volunteers were there with signs. I distributed some high visibility vests for the volunteers who would be stationed at the roadway crossing near the end of the march. I met two volunteer UBC counsellors who had offered to support participants at the march, and then the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) team arrived!
Attendees were beginning to fill the natural amphitheater outside the IRSHDC. My two young helpers were stationed beside the wagon while I checked on the arrival of our Elders, performers, and the two Deans whose support made our vision for the March possible. The crowd was buzzing; you could feel the anticipation in the air. I had the natural pre-event butterflies, so I was checking and double-checking on everything. I dashed upstairs to check on the Elders and found that my colleagues were taking good care of them.
My colleagues had prepared gifts. They had been beading and making broaches, necklaces, and artwork to show our appreciation of the Elders’ time and contributions. My heart was full when I saw the wonderful artwork my colleagues had put their love into. I exchanged hugs and greetings with colleagues whom I am lucky enough to also count as friends.
Our performers had challenges with the parking, so we were off schedule. I spoke to the sea of people all wearing orange shirts, letting them know of the delay and reassuring them that we would begin shortly. The crowd was patient, and there was a frisson in the air. Young children played by the reflecting pond and rocks nearby.
Our Elders were now seated in the makeshift stage at the bottom of the natural amphitheater. The Deans and Associate Deans, EDI from both Applied Science and Land and Food Systems were there. My young helpers, now joined by a sibling, my colleague (who is also a cousin) from the IRSHDC and her son were all ready to go. I was on the phone with Danilo who had dashed to the Longhouse to bring our performers over. When they arrived, I welcomed them and gave last minute instructions. We were ready to go!
I approached the mic. Forgetting my pre-event nerves, I spoke into the microphone and called upon Musqueam Elder Doris Fox to provide a welcome to the territory. Elder Doris spoke to how, not that long ago, we – as Indigenous peoples – would not have had the support for this day, for Phyllis Webstad’s story, and for the history and legacy of the harms that Indigenous people suffered through. Elder Doris stated how much the support meant, that folks would bring their families to hear our stories and histories in solidarity. Her words were eloquent and beautiful.
Then, I introduced Coastal Wolfpack - our wonderful performers - who drummed, sang, and danced Coast Salish songs depicting voyages, honour and celebration of future generations. A member of Coastal Wolfpack spoke to the crowd. Next, I provided some information to the crowd, now in the hundreds, or perhaps thousands. I detailed the March route, pointed out our volunteers, including the counsellors and PADS dogs to help provide respite and support for digesting difficult truths, and briefly outlined the next part of the event. For the second half of our program, we would hear an Elder and survivor from the Indian Residential School Survivors Society. We began our march up Main Mall to the Reconciliation Pole.
My husband and our two dogs joined my family, and we all marched together, stopping to allow March attendees to pet the dogs along the way. Fifteen minutes later (and after a quick bannock break) we arrived at the Reconciliation Pole where a sea of orange shirts awaited the next part of the event. Danilo began by introducing an Elder. Elder John Jones is from the Snuneymuxw First Nation and is a survivor of the Alberni Residential School. Elder John spoke to how the show of support heralds a new understanding in Canada. Elder John shared his story of his time at Alberni Residential School. He detailed how he tried to hide from abuse, and how he and so many other children could not escape from the traumas they faced at residential school. Elder John shared how the pain from his experiences manifested itself in his life as an adult, and how he finally learned to process and manage that pain. The crowd at the Reconciliation Pole silently listened, many with tears in their eyes, to Elder John’s history and teachings. Elder John shared that he hoped this history would never be repeated.
Danilo then introduced Dean James Olson and Dean Rickey Yada, who both thanked the Elders, the participants, and the team who made the event possible. Elder Doris gave warm, encouraging words to the crowd. Then, Danilo outlined the cairn painting activity, and that marked the end of the Intergenerational March programing.
The day was not quite over for us. Volunteers began helping with collecting the signs, the sundries and equipment, bringing everything back to the Kaiser building. My family and I met them, and I made several runs up to my office to store everything away for next year. My phone continued to ring as the food trucks were leaving. Armed with a few bottles of water after a full and beautifully warm day, we left UBC in time for dinner and to see if we could catch any coverage on the evening news.
I felt so grateful to be surrounded by family, friends, colleagues, and community as we came together to show support and commit to solidarity with Indigenous peoples. I also felt grateful to be a part of an institution which supports us doing this important work. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for sharing and learning hard truths on the harm and legacy of Indian Residential schools in Canada. We can do better because we know better. As we drove home, I felt a deep sense that I had honoured my ancestors on this day.
Engaging with Indian Residential School histories and legacies can lead to emotional reactions and (unexpectedly) difficult thoughts and feelings. Sometimes these can surface hours, days, or weeks later. This is perfectly normal. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it is important to respect your needs and to be kind to yourself. For resources, visit IRSHDC.