Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Phyllis Webstad has written another children’s book on the residential school system.
The latest book is titled Every Child Matters, a phrase tied inextricably with Orange Shirt Day, Sept. 30, and the movement Webstad founded to draw the country’s attention to the harms done to Indigenous children within the residential school system in Canada.
The book was released on Aug. 8 and put out by Medicine Wheel Publishing. It’s for readers ages six and up.
“No matter what colour of the medicine wheel you are, it’s for all children,” Webstad said.
The hardcover book begins with the following sentence: “Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples have lived on Turtle Island celebrating, practicing and honouring our own Indigenous cultures.”
Webstad goes on to write how Indigenous people had their own dances, their own songs, their own teachings, their own ceremonies and their own cultures.
Webstad writes Indigenous people were told their way of life was wrong and that a system, the residential school system, was created to change the way Indigenous people lived.
For the past couple of years Webstad has been trying to secure a Canadian trademark for the phrase Every Child Matters.
“Everybody and their dog is doing something and trying to sell something” with Every Child Matters on it, Webstad said.
“This book was about making a statement, proving to the world Every Child Matters originated with the Orange Shirt Society and its Orange Shirt Day.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Orange Shirt Day.
The day encourages people to wear orange shirts to honour residential school survivors, their families and those children who did not come home from the schools having died during their time in the institutions.
Orange Shirt Day became a federal statutory holiday in Canada in 2021. It is officially known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Webstad, a member of the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation in British Columbia, founded Orange Shirt Day to commemorate an incident that happened to her when she was just six years old. Webstad, who had been given a bright orange shirt by her grandmother for her first day of school, had it taken away by school officials. It was never returned. That orange shirt became a symbol of the loss that Indigenous children suffered by being taken away from their families and communities and sent to residential school, sometimes many hundreds of kilometres from where they lived.
Webstad spent one year at the St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School, located near her hometown of Williams Lake, B.C. The school was permanently closed in 1981.
The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization that Webstad founded in 2013. She has been working for the society full-time since 2019.
Besides creating awareness of the Every Child Matters movement, the society aims to support residential school reconciliation and to bring attention to the individual, family and community intergenerational impacts of residential schools.
Despite the assimilation system that Canada contrived to remove Indigenous culture and ways of knowing from Indigenous children, Webstad said Indigenous people continue to dance, sing, speak their languages and uphold their teachings.
Near the conclusion of her book, Webstad writes “everybody matters, from the residential school survivors, their family members and those children that didn’t come home.”
Every Child Matters is illustrated by Karlene Harvey, a member of Tsilhqot’in First Nation in B.C.
Webstad, who had not met Harvey even after she had completed her artwork for the book, was pleased with the results.
“One thing that I like is I didn’t want any of my books to be cartoony,” Webstad said. “I wanted a touch of realness. And that’s what she did.”
Though written for children, Webstad realizes she is writing about a serious topic.
“When I speak, I talk about the past, what it was like and I talk about what was lost,” she said. “And people really appreciate that.”
Harvey was pleased to hear Webstad’s complimentary words.
“I think my style is pretty cartoonish,” she said. “But something I was told though was to find a style that best represented something that fitted Phyllis’ story. Phyllis’ story has so much emotion, a lot of sadness and a... closeness to her heart. It made more sense to reflect that of what she had lived through.”
Other books by Webstad include Phyllis's Orange Shirt and The Orange Shirt Story.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.