Lekwungen Elder Dr. Butch (Clarence) Dick on Orange Shirt Day
If you are navigating trauma or having a difficult time, support is available including via the KUU-US Crisis Line for Indigenous People struggling with trauma, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society or through Royal Roads Counseling or Indigenous Student Support Services. Find these resources and more on our National Day for Truth and Reconciliation & Orange Shirt Day webpage.
On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, our campus will be closed and the survivors’ flag will fly over the traditional Lands of the Xwsepsum and Lekwungen ancestors and families.
It’s an opportunity to honour and uphold Survivors of Canada’s Indian residential school system, their families, and those who were unable to return home.
For me, wearing this shirt is a statement that I have committed to approaching this important work both as an individual, and as president of Royal Roads University.
It also happens to be designed by my friend, Lekwungen Elder Dr. Butch Dick.
We asked if he would share what the day means to him.
From climate change and personal sovereignty to his beautiful family, his response was warm and wide-ranging, which isn't surprising given his many years as an educator, mentor, advocate and artist.
He has shared so many generous and eloquent teachings with our university community over the years, and I am grateful. As I am to all the Elders and Old Ones of the Heron People Circle who guide us forward in our commitment to implementing the Calls to Action and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Watch the video or read some of what Dr. Butch Dick had to say
“All the issues around truth and reconciliation goes back a long way with our family because my mother was also in residential school in a place called Coqualeetza. She spent most of her teen life at residential school and also my whole family — we've all been to residential school at one time another. I was there for my first two years of education which is Grade one and Grade two.
“This time of year is really difficult for a lot of people because I know that a lot of people use this time to help their healing and there's probably a bigger amount that just don't want to talk about it because of all of the things that it brings up. Sometimes, the orange shirt is just a reminder that you don't want to be reminded of. My brother Skip and I are the same way; we’ve never told our children about what happened there and prefer not to, but we have to acknowledge the people that do talk about it openly because they're courageous – they’re a lot more courageous than we can be. So probably we’ll keep everything that happened in those schools inside us and that's why it's so difficult to deal with Orange Shirt Day.
“I told my family that I'm not going to wear an orange shirt this year; it's too much of a reminder. And I was too young to really understand what happened – I think I was six and seven years old when I was sent to residential school. I really couldn't understand the whole process.
“It all started with John A. McDonald, who began the process with the Anglican and Catholic churches who struck a deal to apprehend or abduct or take First Nation children away from their families. The real reason was – they said a long time ago — was that your parents or your parent couldn’t bring you up in a way that you should be brought up. Really, John A. MacDonald said that you can educate First Nation people but all you have is educated savages. And those kind of things resonate because that brings up a lot of anger. I tried to put that away a long time ago and I couldn't lead my life that way – with a lot of anger. My mother talked about hate and said that we should never use that word. No matter how angry you get, we should never use that word.
“And she was a tough lady. My dad died before I was born and left my mom a widow with six children. She was tough and she was hard working lady. She worked two jobs every day to give us food and clothing. She used to say, ‘we’re lucky we’re broke and not poor.’ So we always had food to eat and beds to sleep in and had lots of love and family around constantly.
“We've got a big family and we're blessed. We’ve got nine children, 31 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. And we had one of the little guys here yesterday and it just a joy to see them growing up, and he's walking now and he's kind of talking. We look at all the kids behind us there growing up. One of our great grandsons, his family lives up in Cowichan and he's actually dancing with the Cowichan people — drumming and singing and dancing along with his dad — so that makes us really proud. It speaks to the sustainability of our culture and they should feel proud about what they do because that just carries on to their children too. So, it’s vitally important.
“Last time I spoke at Royal Roads, I spoke at Orange Shirt Day and how it should be a celebration of resiliency rather than a sad day. I know you can’t help when you reflect about feeling that sadness in your heart and all the things that have happened over the years to our family. Most of our family are really successful, despite everything.
“Orange Shirt Day is good in that people get together and this year, Songhees is holding a powwow, which is not really part of our culture, probably people think that it is our culture but it's not. It comes from back east or the prairies or the United States but anything that gets people together in a happy way is vitally important to the Elders.
“I know many people that have gone to residential school that have already passed and they’re in the other world now, and I think about them often and the lives they had to leave as a result, but I read something — I think it was about Zen Buddhism — where they said, ‘it's not about yesterday or tomorrow. It's about today,’ which is really hard concept to embrace. But my wife Irene has taught me a lot about family and about love and the love of people and family and embracing every little bit of it, because it's a good world if you ignore all the other things that you see on media and all the other things that are going on to other people. You can't help but reflect on things that are happening across the world and to the world as we move on.
“I talk a lot about climate change now and that worries me because our foundation really is the Land and our language is attached to the Land and our culture is attached to the Land which is so important. But that message is really hard to convey to young people and how they should not only look out to their Elders and their younger siblings but the world also. And the other important thing is self – look after yourself. I call it personal sovereignty. How do you get to that point where you have that personal sovereignty and everything else that goes along with it – the confidence and self esteem and this sense of belonging somewhere.
“I don't know if I really welcome Orange Shirt Day because we live with it all year long, but I think it's important in terms of awareness and making people aware. I work for the school district as a teacher and they always encourage us to talk about reconciliation in the schools and residential schools, but to me, that's perpetuating the trauma of schools and passing it along to young children who will never understand what residential schools were all about. So I guess, sometimes you welcome this day, but then, not really.”