SASKATOON — A nonprofit group that uses the sport of hockey to educate children about the historical impact and importance of residential schools in the country is targeting young people who play in youth leagues across the country.
The Orange Jersey Project, which also aims to promote the physical and mental well-being of Aboriginal youth through sport, is managed by the Orange Shirt Society with Keener Jerseys as a partner and sponsored by the Canadian Tire Corporation.
The OSS aims to create awareness of the intergenerational trauma and impact caused by residential schools and to promote the concept “Every Child Matters” among young people.
OSS program manager Melissa Lundy said the project is the first phase of their five-year plan to use the sport as a tool to reach young Canadians to discuss the importance of wearing the color orange in their jerseys.
“Phase 1 of hockey [was] launched in February with 10,000 young people receiving training shirts with the associated learning management system. While we aim to keep the residential schools conversation going, our jerseys go beyond the practice jerseys themselves,” Lundy said in an email to SASKTODAY.ca.
“The Phase 2 waitlist is now available and these hockey jerseys will be released this fall. We have a plan of approximately five years so that each sport can reach all young people in Canada. At this time we do not offer team shirts or an online store, but we are exploring these options to raise funds for the program.
She added that the project has been well received as they aim to keep the conversation going and now a professional team from the National Hockey League will also participate.
“The Vancouver Canucks are highlighting this project and their upcoming Indigenous game on March 30 and we appreciate having professional and elite teams showcasing the Orange Shirt Society and our ties to Every Child Matters,” Lundy said.
“As we aim to run the project as a free program, we are working on sponsors for future sports. We plan to release soccer and football in [late] 2022, and potentially other sports in 2023.”
She said with hockey as the premier sport, discussions of why the color orange is associated with Indigenous children shouldn’t stop at practices.
“In the case of hockey, we encourage dialogue on and off the ice and for coaches to dedicate several practices to enhance the conversation about why they wear orange,” said Lundy, who added that ‘they aimed to reach young hockey players as young as 10 years old.
“The work the company is doing has no age limit, but successfully launching a learning management system [LMS] tailored to participants, we opted for future rollouts to limit the age category to 10s to early 20s.
She said they also want coaches and other adult team members to be involved in the discussions and help their players understand the issues.
“In addition to this, throughout the LMS, we encourage young people to discuss how they feel about the topics of residential schools and reconciliation with a parent, coach or other adult. We plan to have a new LMS for younger kids and once ready we will expand the program. We send welcome kits with practice shirts to coaches. It includes a copy of our Orange Shirt Day book and we provide resources for company staff if a coach has questions,” Lundy said.
For more information, visit orangejerseyproject.ca.