Posted on September 22, 2023

President's message: Orange Shirt Day

orange shirt paper cutouts with a written message

A message from Ajay Patel, VCC president

Dear VCC community,

As we prepare to join our Indigenous colleagues, students, friends, and community in recognition of Orange Shirt Day next week, the recent and heartbreaking announcement from the Stó:lō Nation of the preliminary findings from the Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of our Children) Project amplifies why Orange Shirt Day is so important. The children taken and lost in the atrocities committed at the St Mary’s Residential School, Coqualeetza Residential School, All Hallows School, and Coqualeetza Indian Hospital is a cruel reminder of what “Truth” means when we talk about Truth and Reconciliation. 

These victims will join the growing list of documented children on the National Residential School Memorial Register who died as a direct result of attending residential schools across Canada. It is our duty to support the many survivors, knowledge keepers, and victims of intergenerational trauma of these residential schools and institutions, in everything we do at Vancouver Community College (VCC). 

The poignant occasions of Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are more than just annual dates on the calendar; it should also be a time when we reaffirm our shared responsibility to create space for healing, space for growth, and space for compassion, as we continue our journey towards Decolonization and Reconciliation.

I want to remind our college community that the work of Reconciliation involves everyone, and that succeeding in delivering Reconciliation requires that we act together. 

VCC remains steadfast in its commitment towards implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and to fostering an educational system that redresses the genocide committed against Indigenous peoples.

Just this week we came together as a college community to celebrate and welcome newly appointed Indigenous leaders Jessie Williams and David Kirk to their respective roles as Dean, Indigenous Initiatives, and Dean, Curriculum and Pedagogy. Led by cultural knowledge keepers, drummers, and singers, the beautiful ceremony followed the traditions of the Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation. I was deeply humbled to be a witness and it reaffirmed my commitment to ensuring we continue to expand our knowledge and commitment to bringing Indigenous ways of being into our classrooms and our work as a post-secondary institution.  

It is imperative that we acknowledge that post-secondary institutions, including VCC, have deep-seated colonial roots that have shaped their history. By welcoming leaders such as Jessie Williams and David Kirk, along with our esteemed cultural advisors and knowledge keepers, VCC is embarking on a new chapter marked by collaboration, healing, and foundational change towards Reconciliation and inclusion. We understand that creating space goes beyond physical locations on our campus; it extends into our hearts, minds, and day-to-day activities. It's about fostering an environment where Indigenous perspectives and knowledge are not just permitted but celebrated, influencing our decisions and actions as we navigate the path of decolonization.

Creating space for hard conversations is a critical aspect of our journey towards reconciliation. Let us continue to foster an environment where difficult conversations about colonial history, the intentions of colonial actions and the consequences of those actions are fully acknowledged. As well, conversations around the enduring harms that continue to be experienced by Indigenous communities which include continued cultural appropriation and systemic racism are met with empathy. Let's engage in dialogue rather than confrontation and acknowledge that the path to Reconciliation often involves acknowledging our own shortcomings.

Love, too, deserves its place in our commitment to reconciliation. We must hold space for acts of generosity, understanding, and support throughout our community, especially as we support Indigenous students and families on their journey towards healing and empowerment.

Next week, as we come together to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, let us remember that at its roots, we are acknowledging all the children who never had a chance to grow up. By holding space for Indigenous voices, we can ensure that our community becomes a place where everyone’s contributions are celebrated and heard.

Thank you for your commitment to these ideals, and let us continue to create space not just physically but also in our hearts, minds, and day-to-day activities, as we strive towards a more inclusive and reconciled future.

I want to extend my deepest love and sympathies to Stó:lō and the surrounding communities who may be reliving very painful experiences, and the thousands and thousands of families and loved ones all across Canada so cruelly and painfully impacted by the historic atrocities against Indigenous peoples. 



Ajay Patel
President & CEO 
Vancouver Community College

If you need support, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line provides emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419. Additional support is available through the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society: 1-800-721-0066.

VCC students experiencing distress or having difficulty coping are encouraged to use the wide range of resources available through the VCC Counselling.