Orange Shirt Day founder Phyllis Webstad will receive honorary doctorate at BU Convocation

A woman standing in front of trees smiles while wearing an orange shirt
Phyllis Webstad

Phyllis Webstad, whose moving story of a childhood spent at a Residential School inspired the creation of Orange Shirt Day, will be honoured at Brandon University’s (BU’s) Convocation this week.

Webstad will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Education degree during the Convocation ceremony for the Faculty of Science and the School of Music, which begins on Thursday at 10 a.m., at BU’s Healthy Living Centre.

A Northern Secwépemc (Shuswap) woman from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), Webstad was forced to attend St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School near Williams Lake, B.C., beginning when she was only six years old. An orange shirt, gifted by her grandmother for Webstad to wear proudly on the first day of school, was forcibly removed from her upon her arrival and was never returned. This was only the beginning of an experience that left her feeling powerless and unimportant, resulting in decades of trauma. But Webstad survived her Residential School upbringing and began a healing journey that led her to become a founder of the Orange Shirt Society and an inspiration to others through her work as an ambassador for the society. Orange Shirt Day, each September 30, has become a basis for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, where Canadians reflect on the harmful legacy of the Residential School System.

“Phyllis has a heartbreaking story that helps us understand on a personal level how the Canadian Residential School System had such a devastating effect on so many children’s lives, leading to generations of trauma,” said Dr. David Docherty, BU’s President and Vice-Chancellor. “But Phyllis’s remarkable story doesn’t end with the cruelty she was forced to endure as a child. She has become a leader and an inspiration to all of us with her resilience and her commitment to healing, for both herself and others. She is one of the key people in a major societal shift to recognize the importance of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, and we are honoured that she will be joining us for the first of our Convocation ceremonies this week.”

Webstad, who lives in Williams Lake with her husband, works full-time with the Orange Shirt Society. She has earned diplomas in Business Administration from Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and in Accounting from Thompson Rivers University (TRU). She received the TRU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017 for her unprecedented impact on local, provincial, national and international communities and has also a received the Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division) from the Governor General of Canada. A published author, Webstad has three books that share her story in her own words – Orange Shirt Story; Phyllis’ Orange Shirt; and Beyond the Orange Shirt Story.

“She is one of the key people in a major societal shift to recognize the importance of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.”

BU President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. David Docherty

Brandon University bestows individuals with an honorary degree based on significant service to the university community or society; excellence in professional life or public service; or advancement of knowledge through research or teaching. Each year nominations are received from within the BU community as well as from other supporters of the University.

Around 460 students will receive their degrees at this year’s two-day event, with ceremonies for graduates in Science and Music (Thursday, 10 a.m.), Education (Thursday, 2 p.m.), Health Studies (Friday, 10 a.m.) and Arts (Friday, 2 p.m.).


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