September 30 is recognized as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day, also known as Orange Shirt Day, and is a time to reflect on the residential school experience and to show support for the reconciliation process with First Nations.
On this date, we encourage you to wear an orange shirt to remember the children who were discovered in unmarked graves at residential schools and to learn more about this dark chapter in Canada’s history. From the 1800s until the late 1990s, over 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in residential schools that left survivors and their descendants with intergenerational trauma that is still felt today.
The origins of Orange Shirt Day date back to 1973, when a six-year-old girl, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, arrived for her first day of school excited to wear a bright orange shirt that was gifted to her by her grandmother. Sadly, the shirt was immediately stripped from her body and replaced with a uniform. After that, she associated the orange colour with that shameful experience when, in her words, she felt no one cared for her and that she was worth nothing. Her story inspired this annual event which invites Canadians to come together, in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, to create a better future.
Don’t have anything orange in your closet? An official 2021 Orange Shirt Day T-shirt is available here for purchase. The shirt was designed by Shayne Hommy, a Grade 11 First Nation Cree student in Dawson Creek. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Orange Shirt Society.
Wearing an orange shirt is just one small way you can help be part of a better future and, in doing so, honour the memory of Indigenous children who lost their lives at residential schools.
The legacy of residential schools is captured in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report which shares the stories of survivors and their family members.
Other recommended reading includes the following non-fiction books that explore the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada:
- From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle
- Secret Path by Gord Downie
- All Our Relations by Tanya Talaga
- Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga
- For a fictional book, check out Five Little Indians by Michelle Good.
Further selections can be found in Indigo’s Indigenous Voices: Non-Fiction section.