Fraser Valley (CSC Corectional Service Canada/Sara Burroughs, Social Programs Officer, Pacific Institution) – This past summer, Canadians were saddened when hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children were discovered at residential schools in western Canada. By September 30, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, hundreds more had been identified on the grounds of former residential schools in various other regions across Canada. People across the country, including inmates at Pacific Institution, wanted to highlight the importance of honouring the Survivors and recognizing the impact of the residential school system on Indigenous communities and individuals.
The Spirit Bear Indigenous Inmate Wellness Committee at Pacific Institution held an art competition for the entire inmate population to promote truth and reconciliation.
“This idea was initially the Spirit Bear Indigenous Wellness Committee’s, and we [staff] were more than happy to assist them,” said Peter Lang, Assistant Warden, Interventions, Pacific Institution. “It gives me a great sense of pride to see the men pouring their heart and soul into their art, but it gives me an even greater sense of pride, as a Métis man, to see them helping Indigenous charities in the community.”
Lang is also the Volunteer President of Metis Chilliwack.
The original intention was to put the winning design on an orange shirt. The orange shirt was adapted as a symbol of the residential school system and its’ Survivors after Phyllis Jack Webstad shared her story about attending residential school.
“Like any other child who attends school, they usually wear a new outfit, and for Phyllis, it was no different—or at least she thought,” said Shawnee McKay, Acting Indigenous Liaison Officer at Pacific Institution. “Phyllis’ grandmother had purchased a shiny orange shirt so she had a new outfit to go to school with. But when she arrived, they stripped her clothes including her orange shirt and it was never seen again.”
The project hit close to home for some of the inmates.
“The discovery of unmarked graves that I’d heard of as a kid growing up, also as a residential school Survivor myself, brought back a lot of sad memories,” said the Spirit Bear Indigenous Inmate Wellness Committee Chair. “I had my own personal struggles. At first, I was angry, which did nothing but put me in places like jails. Now, anger is not who I am. I’m better than that. That’s why I want to give back to those that are not there yet. Hate and anger can be replaced by love and respect.”
The committee received 15 art submissions. The winning submission is now featured on Pacific Institution’s custom-made orange shirts. The t-shirts featuring the winning design will be available for Pacific Institution staff, their families, and inmates to purchase.
All proceeds will go to the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society.
The two other winning designs will be painted on murals around the institution. Runners up will re-create their designs on a smaller scale in the programs building at Pacific Institution.