September 30th is Orange Shirt Day, which is also known as the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. This day is not just about a t-shirt – it is a day for people to reflect, recognize, and raise awareness of the ongoing harmful legacy of the residential school system in Canada.
About Residential Schools:
The Canadian Government operated and paid for residential schools in partnership with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and United churches. There were residential schools in all Canadian provinces except Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. The goal of these schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into a “Euro-Canadian” society, by stripping them of their identity, culture, communities, families, and beliefs. It is estimated that over 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools and that over 6,000 died while under the supervision of the residential school system. However, there are likely many more children who died that are unaccounted for. Residential schools operated in Canada between the 1870s and the 1990s, with the last residential school located in Saskatchewan being closed in 1996. Traumatic experiences have been documented, including (but not limited to) forced labour, abuse (physical, sexual, mental), vilification of cultural traditions, exposure to illness, and segregation.
History of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:
In 2021, the Federal Government re-named September 30th as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and declared it a statutory holiday. This decision was made as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #80. This Call to Action asked that the Federal Government collaborate with Indigenous Peoples to “establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
September 30th was chosen because it falls during the time of year when Indigenous children had historically been taken away to residential schools. The orange shirt in Orange Shirt Day refers to the new shirt that Phyllis Webstad was given 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 which was never returned. The colour orange has always reminded Phyllis of her experiences at residential school. Orange Shirt Day was created by Phyllis in 2013 to educate people about residential schools and fight racism. The message that Phyllis wants to pass along on Orange Shirt Day — and every day — is that every child matters.
Ways to Honour the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:
There are many ways that individuals, families, communities, and organizations can get involved and honour the experiences of Indigenous children, families, and communities on September 30th. One thing that you can do is wear an orange t-shirt and share Phyllis’s story. It is important to be mindful of where the t-shirt is purchased and to support local Indigenous organizations when possible.
Another way to get involved is to watch the virtual event hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. This event is part of a week of presentations designed to educate the public about the history of Indigenous Peoples.
For additional resources, see: