Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake in 2013 and has since spread to schools across B.C. and Canada. (Orangeshirtday.org)
Orange Shirt Day (September 30th) is 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.
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 1860s and the 1990s. 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.
September 30th falls during the time of year when Indigenous children were taken away to residential school.
Orange Shirt Day has spread to schools all across Canada, including Sweetgrass School near Battleford, Saskatchewan. (OrangeShirtDay.org)
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.
You can read Phyllis Webstad's book about her orange shirt. (Medicine Wheel Education)
There are many ways you can get involved!