September 30th is Orange Shirt Day, “a day when we honour the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools in Canada and learn more about the history of those schools”. (CBC.ca).
Between the 1860s and 1990s, approximately 150,000 Métis, Inuit and First Nations children were sent to church-run residential schools. The schools harmed Indigenous children by removing them from their families, forcing them to speak English or French instead of their ancestral languages, disconnecting them from their culture and traditions and forcing them to adopt Christianity in order to assimilate into Canadian society. The government has since acknowledged that this approach was wrong, cruel and ineffective, and offered an official apology to the Indigenous people of Canada in 2008.
Why an Orange Shirt?
The legacy of Residential Schools is still felt by survivors (former students), their families and communities, and on September 30th, the time when children were taken to these schools. But why an orange shirt?
The “orange shirt” in Orange Shirt Day refers to the new shirt that Phyllis Webstad was given to her by her grandmother for her first day of school at St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in British Columbia. When Phyllis got to school, they took away her clothes, including her new shirt. It was never returned. To Phyllis, the colour orange has always reminded her of her experiences at residential school and, as she has said, “how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.” The message that Phyllis wants to pass along on Orange Shirt Day — and every day — is that every child matters. Orange Shirt Day was started by Phyllis to educate people about residential schools and fight racism and bullying.
What You Can Do
- Share Phyllis’ story. You can watch it on YouTube or below:
3. Join over 10,000 teachers and over 500,000 of Canadian youth on September 30 to honour Residential School Survivors, their families and communities at an extraordinary virtual event to support and encourage meaningful Reconciliation across Canada. For Grades 5 through 12: https://education.nctr.ca/
4. Wear your orange shirt on September 30th – not only because of the pain and tragedy that was caused, but to recognize the strength, resilience and healing of the indigenous peoples and our commitment to creating a better future, where every child matters.