Every Sept. 30, we wear orange to honour the Indigenous children who were sent away from their families to live in, what is now known to have been horrifically abusive, residential schools.
Orange Shirt Day opens the door to open conversations about the residential school system of Canada. The grassroots movement is hopeful that the annual celebration gives the “opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of residential schools and the legacy they have left behind.” This day, while also an opportunity to open conversations, is also “a day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter… Every child matters, even if they are an adult.”
Events hosted all over Canada, including here at TRU, honouring Orange Shirt day commemorate the residential school experience, witness and honour the healing that survivors and their families are processing and commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.
After the rediscovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on residential school properties across the country, Canadians have been sharing and perhaps learning for the first time the tragedies that countless Indigenous children were forced to endure.
According to Vernie Clement, Indigenous Student Development supervisor, students were “forced to speak French, instead of English, siblings were split,” when it comes to the meals, they offered a meal that was not pleasant tasting or smelling.
Many survivors are still coping with the trauma from their time at the schools to this day, with many of them facing all forms of abuse. The intergenerational impact is still felt through communities.
The last residential school to close its doors was the Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan in November 1996. Residential schools are in Canada’s past but many of those who attended remain key members of our society.
Why do we wear orange?
Every Sept. 30 we wear Orange to stand with residential school survivors, like Phyllis Webstad. The orange shirt is a small but significant marker of how residential schools stripped children of their personal identity with cruel efforts.
Webstad attended Saint Joseph’s Mission Residential school in Williams Lake B.C. for one school year (1973/1974) when she was just six years old. For her first day at her new school, Webstad wore a new orange shirt her grandmother had gotten for her. Her excitement was quickly dashed away when she was stripped of her brand new shirt the moment she reached her new school.
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared,” Webstad said in her online written account.
By wearing orange on Sept. 30, the community is invited to educate themselves and each other about Phyllis’s story, honour the experiences of Indigenous people, celebrate the resilience and affirm the commitment to reconciliation.