A Grand Erie District School Board trustee says she is being vilified after the board announced on Oct. 2 that she had resigned over a Facebook post about Orange Shirt Day.
“This is wild,” Christina Speers, who is the trustee for Brant County and Wards 3 and 7 of Norfolk County, said in an interview on the weekend. “It’s a smear campaign.”
The board announced in a news release that Speers, elected in 2018 to a four-year term, had tendered her resignation effective immediately following her Facebook post on Sept. 30 “minimizing the significance of Orange Shirt Day.”
Speers had posted an explanation of why she and her children weren’t wearing orange shirts on Sept. 30, saying kids are being burdened with too many stressful stories at school.
Orange Shirt Day was launched in 2013 to commemorate the experiences of residential school students and commit to learning more about the history of the schools, such as the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford.
Here’s what Speers posted:
“I chose not to wear an orange shirt today, and for the kids as well. We are going to need to release pantone colours by the time we get to every groups demands on our (public school) children. Just yesterday they were reminded in these super stressful times that Terry Fox died of cancer that took his leg. Heavy stories to ask our children to carry while we send them to school for Math, English and Science. Instead of an orange shirt to show the world I actually do care about Indigenous People and their assimilation and brutal attack and the taking away of their land and ways I take my kids to their land to thank them and seek a better balance. Immerse yourself in understanding — it takes more than a shirt.”
A statement, signed by all the other trustees, said: “We want to be very clear: we denounce the views expressed by Ms. Speers… In the strongest possible terms, we want to reaffirm our commitment to the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report as well as the important relationship we have with our Indigenous communities.”
The board said it “whole-heartedly honours” Orange Shirt Day.
“Our educators and staff share a wide range of grade-appropriate resources with students so they can understand the impact of Canada’s residential school system,” the board said.
“These resources, many of which were developed locally by our Indigenous education staff, along with the assistance of the Woodland Cultural Centre, Six Nations of the Grand River, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, help us all to understand the traumatic and inter-generational impact residential schools have on our Indigenous students and their families. This critical and important learning doesn’t begin and end on Orange Shirt Day, it is ongoing for all Grand Erie students, staff and trustees.”
Speers said she received “hate mail” and felt her children were in danger.
“I resigned for the safety of my kids.”
In a separate Facebook post, Speers said a photo of one of her children was being sent around as if it were her. “The school board has pushed and promoted this photo and did not perform their due diligence,” she said.
Speers declined to further elaborate, saying she is considering her legal options.
A Grand Erie spokesperson said Speers’s Facebook post was “neither pushed not promoted” by the board.
“As trustees stated today (Oct. 2), her post does not align with Grand Erie’s commitment to equity,” said Kimberly Newhouse, manager of communications.
Aleria McKay, the current Miss Six Nations, who is currently attending York University in Toronto, wrote on her blog that Speers is a small part of a much larger problem.
McKay, who attended Brantford Collegiate Institute, said she found, as an institution, the Grand Erie board cares “little” about Indigenous students.
“Christina, do better. GEDSB, do better. BCI, do better. It is too late to do better for me but I hope that by the time my kids will be sent to high school it will truly be a safe environment for them.”
Others responded to the news on social media by saying the board’s statement was an overreaction and an act of bullying.
“Seems the Grand Erie school board should be wearing their ‘pink shirts’,” said someone identified as Kenny Kent, referring to pink shirts against bullying. “They need to practise what they preach.”
Another poster said he agrees with Speers.
“Why not just spend some hours in class learning about this part of our history?” wrote Bryan Greenwood, “Two hours … goes a lot further than a shirt of any shade.”
Newhouse said the board has yet to decide how to fill the vacancy left by Speers’s resignation but likely will address the issue at the Oct. 26 board meeting.