It’s Orange Shirt Day on Friday, September 30.
This day is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
The day is born from a very nightmarish reality in Canadian history, lasting more than 150 years. That’s six generations. Between 1840 and 1996 over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children as young as six were forced to leave their homes and live at residential schools. At least 6,000 children died in these schools.
“The network was funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and administered by Christian churches,” reads the Wikipedia entry on the residential schools in Canada.
The conditions of these schools were appalling. Again from Wikipedia:
Students in residential school systems were faced with a multitude of abuses from teachers and administrators. The Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that physical genocide, biological genocide, and cultural genocide all occurred: physical, through abuse; biological, through the disruption of reproductive capacity; and cultural, through forced assimilation. One person has stated that “[o]ne in 25 children were killed at residential schools, countless others were raped and all who attended were kidnapped.” Children also suffered from malnourishment and harsh discipline that would not have been tolerated in any other school system.
In the sixties, there was what was to become known as the “Sixties Scoop.” According to Traditional Native Healing.com, “As it has been notoriously said, the goal was to ‘kill the Indian in the child’ or to ‘beat the Indian out of the child.’ Children were taught the English language and to be ashamed of their culture.”
So why the orange shirt? This comes from the recent history of a woman named Phyllis Webstad. According to the Orange Shirt Day website, Orange Shirt Day “grew out of Phyllis’ story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school” at the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school when she started in 1973.
I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, and there was no welfare, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!
When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never saw it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color 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.
On Friday, September 30, Journey Middle School will be participating in the Orange Shirt Day commemoration. “Orange Shirt Day,” reads their website, “Today staff and students are encouraged to wear orange to commemorate that effects that residential school had on many people and to remind ourselves that everyone matters.”
SD62 is also on board, issuing the following reminder.
— School District #62 (@SD62_Sooke) September 26, 2016
If you are so inclined, send your child to school in an orange shirt on Friday, and don a dash of orange yourself. Let’s dare to acknowledge this dark chapter of Canadian history, and promise to never repeat it.
The Orange Shirt Day Society was formed in Williams Lake by the founders of Orange Shirt Day to encourage and support communities to recognize Orange Shirt Day and to support reconciliation events and activities. Our goal is to create awareness of the individual, family and community inter-generational impacts of Indian Residential Schools through Orange Shirt Day activities. To contact Orange Shirt Day Society in Williams Lake, BC email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Reconciliation Canada
- Witness Blanket
- Canadian Indian residential school system
- Orange Shirt Day website
- Traditional Native Healing