Orange Shirt Day, held annually on September 30, aims to spread awareness about Canada’s residential school system and to honour Indigenous school survivors and their families.
It started in 2013 when Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her story at a large gathering to commemorate those impacted by residential schools.
At the age of six, Phyllis went shopping with her grandmother to get an outfit for her first day of school. She ended up with a shiny orange shirt she couldn’t wait to wear. Upon arriving at the residential school, dressed in her new shirt, it was immediately taken from her. From then on, Phyllis saw the colour orange as a symbol of how her feelings didn’t matter.
Start a conversation
In order to have an informed discussion with family, friends, and co-workers, it’s important to do a little research and get to know the basic facts. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and put into residential schools. It took until 1996 for the last school to close.
“There are videos on our website that parents can watch with their kids,” says Joan Sorley from the Orange Shirt Society. “They could read Phyllis’s books or our new book, Orange Shirt Day, with their children, just to learn more.”
These are all good starting points for conversations. And these conversations shouldn’t end when Orange Shirt Day is over. “It’s about committing to learning more about the residential schools and their continuing impacts,” says Joan.
How can you participate?
One of the easiest ways to promote recognition and start conversation is by wearing an orange shirt.
To hear first-hand what happened in residential schools, you can tune into Every Child Matters: Reconciliation Through Education, a virtual event hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The program is aimed to educate children age 10 and up, as well as parents and teachers. It’s an opportunity to hear from survivors, artists, and leaders of the First Nations, to learn about the impact of the residential school system, and to create new paths forward that include truth and understanding.
There is also a Facebook Live Q&A with Phyllis at 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST.
Whether you join in on the virtual events or wear a shirt, or both, make sure to take a photo and post it using the hashtag #orangeshirtday.