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Indigenous History

What is Orange Shirt Day?

Published on September 30, 2020 | Last Updated October 27, 2022


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Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake in 2013 and has since spread to schools across B.C. and Canada. (

Orange Shirt Day (September 30th) is a day when we honour the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools in Canada. It's also a day to learn more about the history of those schools.

What are residential schools?

archival black and white photo of a residential school classroom with students and a nun

Students and a nun in a classroom at Cross Lake Indian Residential School, Manitoba, 1940. (Reuters/Canada)

Residential schools were church-run schools where approximately 150,000 Métis, Inuit and First Nations children were sent between the 1830s and the 1990s.

The schools harmed Indigenous children by removing them from their families and forcing them to speak English or French instead of their ancestral languages. They were also disconnected them from their culture and traditions and forced to adopt Christianity in order to be assimilated 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 is September 30th a special date?

September 30th falls during the time of year when Indigenous children were taken away to residential school. Today, it's also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Why is it an orange shirt?

a classroom of children all wearing orange shirts and standing outside in front of their school sign

Orange Shirt Day has spread to schools all across Canada, including Sweetgrass School near Battleford, Saskatchewan. (

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.”

What does Orange Shirt day represent?

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 to fight racism and bullying.

What can you do?

The cover of Phyllis Webstad's book The Orange Shirt Story

You can read Phyllis Webstad's book about her orange shirt. (Medicine Wheel Education)

There are many ways you can get involved!

  • Wear an orange shirt on September 30th
  • Read Phyllis' story "The Orange Shirt Story" with your classroom or your family. It's available in English, French and Shuswap.
  • Read books by Indigenous authors about residential schools.
  • Trace your hand and write something on it that you can do to help others feel like they matter.
  • Share Phyllis’ story. You can watch it on YouTube or below:


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