Orange Shirt Day 2021
Every year on September 30th, we acknowledge Orange Shirt Day. Today, on September 30th, 2021, we also mark Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
This day encourages Canadians to reflect on the intergenerational trauma of the residential school system and its continued impact on Indigenous families and communities. We honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, by listening to the stories of survivors and their families, and engaging in meaningful discussion in the spirit of reconciliation.
Orange Shirt Day is based off of the experience of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. Read her story in her own words:
“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, 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 wore 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.
I was 13.8 years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born. Because my grandmother and mother both attended residential school for 10 years each, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like. With the help of my aunt, Agness Jack, I was able to raise my son and have him know me as his mother.
I went to a treatment centre for healing when I was 27 and have been on this healing journey since then. I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!
I am honored to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories.”
September 30th was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools. These schools operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996.
As we continue to educate ourselves, we all play a role in the reconciliation process. We can start by acknowledging the history of the Indigenous peoples and the devastating impact of the residential school system on their families and communities. As we move forward, we can engage in meaningful discussions with friends, family and our social networks, to dismantle the negative perceptions and stereotypes that are placed upon Indigenous communities.
The National Residential School Crisis Line: provides emotional and crisis referral services at a 24-hour line, 1-866-925-4419
Native Youth Crisis Line: Answered by staff 24/7. Available throughout Canada and US. 1-877-209-1266
Hope for Wellness Helpline: 24/7 counselling and crisis intervention, 1-855-242-3310