Residential schools

Surrey Memorial worker claims she was told to take off orange shirt honouring Indigenous children

Employee for housekeeping company contracted out by Fraser Health posted about incident on TikTok

In a video posted to TikTok on Monday (May 31), a worker at Surrey Memorial Hospital said she was told to change out of her orange shirt that she wore in honour of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered at a former residential school site in Kamloops. (Photo: Felicia Debbie/TikTok)

In a video posted to TikTok on Monday (May 31), a worker at Surrey Memorial Hospital said she was told to change out of her orange shirt that she wore in honour of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered at a former residential school site in Kamloops. (Photo: Felicia Debbie/TikTok)

Editor’s note: This article contains details about experiences at residential schools in B.C. and may be triggering to readers.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society’s 24-hour line is available at 1-800-588-8717.

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A company contracted out by Fraser Health has reportedly apologized to one of its employees after a woman says she was told to take off the orange shirt she was wearing in honour of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found at a former residential school in Kamloops.

In a TikTok video posted by user felicia_debbie Monday (May 31), which has garnered more than 11,300 views, the woman said she wore her orange shirt to work at Surrey Memorial Hospital and was told to change.

“So I said, ‘No’ and they said, ‘Take it off.’ I said, ‘No, it stays on. If I can’t wear it, I’m going home.’ So I left work,” she says in the video.

@felicia_debbie

##215 ##residentialschool a topic i will not fight over

♬ original sound – Felicia Debbie

Orange Shirt Day, which is Sept. 30 each year, was part of a legacy project to commemorate the residential school experience, with the slogan “Every Child Matters.”

In the days since the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed there were remains of at least 215 Indigenous children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, people have worn orange shirts in honour of the children.

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the remains of the children, some believed to be as young as three, were confirmed with the help of ground-penetrating radar.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was Canada’s largest such facility operated by the Roman Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969 before the federal government took it over as a day school until 1978, when it was closed.

Fraser Health referred the Now-Leader to Aramark, the company the woman works for. The Now-Leader had not yet heard back from Aramark.

Meantime, Hospital Employees’ Union spokesperson Mike Old, who said “we need to respect the privacy of our member,” said the union has been in touch with her.

“What happened to her was really unacceptable. We’ve spoken with her employer, Aramark which is a housekeeping contractor for Fraser Health, and we demanded that they apologize to this worker.”

Old said she did receive an apology.

He added the union also asked Aramark to provide cultural safety training for their managers and supervisors.

“I mean, it’s been a really, really tough week, especially for Indigenous people and for residential school survivors and their family. This should never have happened.”

In an emailed statement, Fraser Health said it was aware of the “unfortunate incident” at Surrey Memorial Hospital, adding that the health authority understands the woman’s “employer acknowledged and apologized for the incident and is following up directly with their employee.”

It adds Fraser Health has “provided direction to the contracted provider that employees can be supported to wear orange shirts as long as all appropriate infection prevention and control measures are followed.”

Hospitals should be “a place of compassion and care” for not only patients but also for workers, Old noted.

“Earlier this week, this worker did not receive the kind of compassion that they should have had at a moment like this. it was a regrettable and disappointing incident. I hope that as a result of this that everybody in our health-care system will do much better.”

Old also pointed to the report earlier this year from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond that found widespread racism in British Columbia’s health system, specifically that Indigenous people in B.C. are much more likely to feel unsafe in health-care settings, to feel they are never included in care decisions and to feel they receive poorer service than others.

READ ALSO: Anti-Indigenous racism embedded in B.C. healthcare system: report, Feb. 4, 2021

Old said there is still “a lot of work” to do in the health-care system to make sure it’s a safe space for Indigenous workers.

“Most Indigenous health-care workers have witnessed or experienced racism or discrimination in the workplace, so we have a lot to do in our health-care system to make it safer.”

– With files from the Canadian Press

READ ALSO: Two events in Surrey to honour 215 Indigenous children found at former residential school, June 2, 2021



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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