Orange Shirt Day
September 30th is national Orange Shirt Day, where people wear orange shirts to remember the horrific effects of the Indian Residential School system, where children felt, and were told, that they didn’t matter. The orange shirt is both a literal and symbolic representation of the harm caused by the Residential School system. Gifts of culture and language passed on through generations were taken away from children when they came to residential school in an effort to “kill the Indian in the child”. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to create meaningful dialogue amongst all Canadians about the Indian Residential School legacy.
Orange Shirt Day originally began as a legacy of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion in May 2013. At that time, residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad shared the story of her time at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, BC, when she had her new orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother before she went to school, taken away from her as a six-year old girl.
“Gifts of culture and language passed on through generations were taken away from children when they came to residential school in an effort to ‘kill the Indian in the child’.”
In July 2014, the Chiefs-in-Assembly at the national Assembly of First Nations meeting in Halifax, stood in unity to pass a resolution declaring September 30th as annual Orange Shirt Day across the country. The Chiefs in attendance were tasked with bringing the message of Orange Shirt Day – Every Child Matters – home to their citizens and surrounding communities. The Assembly of First Nations was charged with promoting this message to the Government of Canada, and to the churches that ran the residential schools. Lastly, all Canadians were asked to embrace the process of reconciliation by listening to the stories of Residential School survivors and those who were, and still are, affected by the Residential School experience.
Now, just three short years later, thousands of people across Canada, including governments, businesses, non-profits, and schools, are honouring residential school survivors and their families and showing that “every child matters” by wearing orange t-shirts today. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are united around this symbol of love and loss, to reaffirm that Every Child Matters, to build bridges with one another, and to engage in the actual action of reconciliation.