Friday, September 30 is Orange Shirt Day. Its slogan “Every Child Matters” means that all children are important, including the Indigenous children who never returned home and the adult survivors who are still healing from the trauma of Canada’s Residential Schools.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation also takes place on September 30 and was established in 2021, as part of an effort to promote awareness and education of the residential school system and the impact it has had on Indigenous communities.
The Origins of Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day was founded by Phyllis Webstad in 2013 in memory of the orange shirt that was taken from her in 1973 on her first day at a residential school. She was forced to remove the shirt given to her by her grandmother and wear a uniform instead.
“When my clothing, including my new orange shirt, was taken, it didn’t matter how much I protested or told them (the nuns and priests) I wanted it back, they didn’t listen,” said Phyllis Webstad during a 2021 online book launch for Beyond the Orange Shirt.
“This was the beginning of that feeling that I didn’t matter. We could be crying, we could be hungry, we could be sad, we could be lonely, and our feelings did not matter. That’s where ‘Every Child Matters’ comes from. They were children. They mattered. And the ones who never made it home; they mattered. And in this day of reconciliation, every child matters.”
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
September 30, 2022, is the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Government of Canada explains that “the day honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Residential schools were boarding- and day-schools funded by the Canadian government that isolated children from their cultures and prevented them from speaking their ancestral languages. Schools were far from indigenous communities and parents had little access to their children for visits. About 150,000 children went to residential schools and students endured malnourishment, overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and physical and sexual abuse. In 2021, hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at former residential schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one of the provisions of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The Agreement resulted from the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history after residential school survivors started legal actions beginning in the 1980s. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documents what happened at residential schools, assesses their lasting impact, and makes recommendations about improving the relationship between Canada and Indigenous nations.
Observing Orange Shirt Day 2022
“Every child matters” even if they are now adults and Orange Shirt Day is a reminder that every child deserves the same opportunities. It reminds us to stand against discrimination, systemic racism, and bullying.
This Orange Shirt Day, honour it by taking part in events and wearing an orange shirt or ribbon.
Learn about the origins of Orange Shirt Day and share the story with friends, family, and coworkers to keep the discussion about residential schools open.
Attend webinars and events related to Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.