Grant Gustafson wants to support the message of Orange Shirt Day, but not just on September 30.
As District Director for Indigenous Education in School District 27, he recognizes that the message is one that needs more than a day to be properly acknowledged.
“The role of the school is not a day, it’s the whole year,” explained Gustafson, emphasizing that the focus should be on the stories of survivors and elders to facilitate sharing and sharing. healing.
He sees his role as providing support and tools for schools to take ownership of the Orange Shirt Day message of truth and reconciliation.
But with a school district that has about 4,600 students in 22 schools in an area as vast as the province of New Brunswick, he has his work cut out.
“It’s about building relationships between the district, the schools and our community partners,” he said.
For the past few years, the school district has brought students from across the region together in Boitanio Park in Williams Lake for a ceremony and celebration, creating a sea of orange.
This year, because the day is now a public holiday, schools will hold Orange Shirt Day events on the eve of the public holiday and the approach will be more independent.
“Schools are taking ownership,” Gustafson said, noting that some schools will participate in online truth and reconciliation workshops, some will hold assemblies and ceremonies, and some will have elders speak.
The different approaches will be adapted to different ages and levels in the district.
The district also purchased orange shirts for every student, teacher and staff.
Gustafson himself also has Indigenous heritage, but it wasn’t something he knew much about growing up. His great-great-grandmother was the daughter of a hereditary chief of the Chemainus region.
He became interested in this aspect of his journey while living and working on Haida Gwaii as a second grade teacher.
He had moved to the area when his partner Andrea, now his wife, got a job there as a dental hygienist.
The couple enjoyed their time on Haida Gwaii, but always knew they would return to Williams Lake to raise their family.
“It’s such a beautiful area.”
Gustafson said the area offered the kind of resources the couple wanted to have to raise their family.
After returning to Cariboo-Chilcotin, he first taught at Alexis Creek and then worked throughout the district including Horsefly, Nesika, Williams Lake Secondary School – Columneetza campus, 150 Mile House, Likely and Williams Lake Secondary School – Williams Lake Campus. He spent sixteen years of his career as a principal before now serving as District Director for Native Education.
Passionate about coaching hockey and soccer in the community, Gustafson’s children, Alexee and Grady, have followed in the athletic footsteps of their parents.
Gustafson said he knew since he was in 6th grade that he wanted to get an education.
As he was growing up, he said he was quite a proud Canadian, but as more information came out about the residential schools, and then about the possible 215 unmarked graves near the residential school near Kamloops, it tarnished the image he had of the country.
He knew he wanted to help with reconciliation work where he could and one speaker uttered the phrase “if not us, then who, and if not now, then when?” which struck a chord.
Soon after, he saw the position of District Director for Native Education appear and he simply felt it was time to take on this challenging role.
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Orange Shirt DaySchool District #27 (Cariboo-Chilcotin)Williams Lake