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Charla Huber: Decal a gesture of support for residential school survivors

Every Child Matters decals turning up on company vehicle fleets send a message of support to people who have felt unseen and unsupported for years
A small sticker on a truck has a big impact in acknowledging the Every Child Matters campaign, writes Charla Huber. VIA CHARLA HUBER

As I finished writing this column, I was reminded of a script I wrote for the PacificFC game on Sept. 30, National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

It might be not the usual format, but I wanted to open this column with the statement broadcast across the stadium by Cliff LeQuesne:

“Please stand for a moment of silence. Today is Orange Shirt Day. A day when we honour, acknowledge and remember the children and families who suffered and still suffer from the trauma and abuse that occurred at residential schools. These were not schools — they were despicable institutions.

“We stand for the children who never made it home, the survivors, and all the families affected. For many of us, we are only learning of these truths. Indigenous families have always known about the missing children. This is not new for them.

“We can do better, we strive to be better, and we share compassion and empathy to the families who live with the rippling effects today. We encourage you to reflect and learn more about the dark history that was hidden from many of us and to offer support and kindness to others.”

A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with my colleague and friend Carmen LeBlanc. We have both been working in Indigenous relations for years. She mentioned she was working on sticker initiative for Every Child Matters.

At that time, it was just an idea.

I saw her this week and I was excited to tell her that I saw an Every Child Matters decal on a company vehicle when I has driving near Uptown. I told her I was excited to see it, and I knew it was something she’d been working on for a long time. If I wasn’t driving, I would have taken a photo.

The decals are on all FortisBC vehicles on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

Marwest Development Corporation learned of the stickers and requested some to put on their vehicles in Ladysmith.

The ball started rolling and Ladysmith Coun. Duck Paterson expressed interest and invited LeBlanc and artist John Marston, who designed the image, to speak at council’s committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday. The committee is considering including the decals on its fleet of vehicles.

“It’s not just a decal — it’s a symbol of your support,” said Marston, a Stz’uminus artist and past recipient of the B.C. Achievement First Nations Art Award. “The image is the creator cradling a young child with the strength of their arms.”

Every Child Matters is a term used to honour and acknowledge the children who experienced residential schools.

The small gesture of creating these decals and the opportunity for organizations to show support and acknowledgement is a demonstration of LeBlanc following the teaching: “If you feel it in your heart, you should do it.”

The stickers aren’t marketed for FortisBC — there is no logo or company name included.

LeBlanc saw a way she would make a small impact, and incorporated it into her work. The stickers are not marketed or sold; it’s a tiny project that is getting people talking.

The concept started when a colleague told LeBlanc they had seen B.C. Transit vehicles with orange ribbons and asked if they could do the same. This was shortly after the suspected unmarked graves of 215 children were located at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

LeBlanc was told by a colleague they’d seen orange ribbons tied to vehicles and wanted FortisBC to follow suit. Ribbons were added to vehicles in the region and then LeBlanc connected with Marston and the decal was created.

When the first stickers appeared on vehicles, an Indigenous contractor reached out and told LeBlanc how meaningful it was to see the support and acknowledgement.

I’ve heard this same sentiment from many residential school survivors when they see people wearing orange shirts. Sometimes we might think “It’s just an orange shirt, or everyone has to say a Territorial Acknowledgement” and forget the heart and meaning behind it.

Publicly supporting and acknowledging the injustice isn’t about the person making the gesture. It’s for the people who have felt unseen and unsupported for years.

“It’s not just about a sticker,” said LeBlanc. “It’s about supporting the conversation and a point of reflection.”

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