September 30 in Canada marks Orange Shirt Day, named after Phyllis Webstad’s first day at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in 1973.
Donning a shiny new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother, the six-year-old saw it taken from her upon arrival at the Church-run institution that stood near Williams Lake, B.C.
Where Webstad’s story inspired the name of the day that is meant to remember fellow residential school survivors, many other survivors are sharing their stories now too, creating an even deeper understanding of the treatment of Indigenous children at residential schools.
Now, author Carolyn Parks Mintz is bringing the memories of two other St. Joseph Mission Residential School survivors to Grand Forks, where she will speak about what she learned from Andy and Phyllis Chelsea.
Resolve: The Chelsea Story and First Nation Community’s Will to Heal dives into the background of the husband and wife couple who met as students at St. Joseph’s.
The couple married in 1964, but soon saw the trauma inflicted by years at the institution seep into their relationship.
“The Chelseas’ struggle with weekend alcoholism came to an abrupt halt in 1971,” a release from the author says, “when their daughter, Ivy, then aged seven, delivered an ultimatum that her parents could not ignore.”
The Chelseas chose sobriety and turned their experiences into fuel for activism.
Andy would go on to become Chief of the Esk’et First Nation and the couple would devote themselves to combatting alcoholism and to overcoming intergenerational trauma that existed within their people.
Their story is described as “a simultaneous celebration of strength and a condemnation of systemic racism,” making the book “a profound and deeply moving story that calls for a closer look at the status of national reconciliation efforts, from the Chelseas’ perspective.”
Author Mintz was selected by the Chelseas as their personal biographer and will be presenting their story on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 3 p.m. at the Grand Forks and District Public Library.