Remembering the children: one orange bead at a time

By on September 1, 2023

Fifty years ago this fall, on Sept. 30, 1973, a six year old girl named Phyllis Webstad, from the Stswecem’cXgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), attended school for the first time —the residential school at St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C. Phyllis famously wore a bright orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother. Forty years later, in 2013, she would write about the neglect and abuse she suffered at that school and, specifically, how her beloved orange shirt was taken away. The story gripped Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and Orange Shirt Day, Sept. 30, was established in 2013, inspiring the creation of a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This date reminds all Canadians that Indigenous children were removed from their homes and taken to residential schools in late September. On Sept. 30, 2023 hundreds of orange-clad Canadians will travel to Parliament Hill to remember the events Phyllis Webstad helped bring to light.

Orange Shirt Day reminds Canadians of the persistent impact of the residential schools—including the loss and colonization of Traditional Knowledge. The visual and performing arts, however, continue to support the continuity of both Traditional Knowledge and culture. One local example is the Thunderbird Sisters Collective. Patsea Griffin, its founder, says “Beadwork is a way for me to stay connected to all my relations in the spirit world. I love being in the beading circle and sharing stories with friends.” She explains that the group “fosters creative spirit through Indigenous art and teaching” providing a “safe space for Indigenous youth and allies to come together to share their creativity.”


Last October, the All My Relations Circle organized an online beading class where Patsea shared her skill with a group of novice beaders. While some compare beading to embroidery work, beading is more repetitive—thus leading quite naturally to meditation and prayer. Larry Langlois, one the AMR members, has thoughtfully compared the repetitive action of beading to reciting the Rosary–—and I have found this to be true. Having mastered the basic skill of attaching tiny beads to the stiffened felt base, I no longer focused on technique. Instead, with each thrust of the needle, I remembered children like Phyllis Webstad and thousands of others impacted by the residential school system: those who came home; those who did not; and family members down through the generations who continue to suffer through vicarious trauma.

Consider taking a beading course. You’ll find Patsea’s contact information among the resources below. If you start beading soon,  you’ll be able to wear your own creation on Sept. 30, National Truth and Reconciliation Day—Orange Shirt Day 2023.

— Submitted on behalf of the All My Relations circle



Anglican Church of Canada Reconciliation Toolkit

History, resources, worship and more.

Reconciliation toolkit

Beechwood Cemetery

On Sept. 30, the Beechwood National Memorial Centre Sacred Space will screen new films. Visitors can also participate in a 45-minute reconciliation tour, learning about key historical figures involved in Indian Residential Schools and about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. At 2 pm, the Children’s Sacred Forest will be unveiled. Those interested must register online before the event.

Beaded Dreams

This store sells materials for beading projects. Address: 426 Bank Street, Ottawa. ON. K2P1Y8.  (613) 235-8378 or toll free: (1) 844-796-8378. Email: [email protected].

Beading with Patsea

To inquire about beading courses, you may reach Patsea Griffin at this address: [email protected].

Government of Canada

Understanding the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Orange Shirt Society

Contact the society for educational resources and events at this address: [email protected].

Presbyterian Church of Canada

Resources for Orange Shirt Day


  • Janet Allingham

    Janet Allingham is a member of the diocesan Primate's World Relief and Development Fund working group.

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