September 30th marks Orange Shirt Day - a day when we honour the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools, as well as their families and communities, and learn more about the history of residential schools in Canada. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together in the spirit of hope and reconciliation. We also reflect on the impacts of the policies and actions of the Government of Canada, which are still felt today.
Reflecting on the Impacts of Residential Schools
Attended by approximately 150,000 Métis, Inuit and First Nations children between the 1870s and the 1990s, residential schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term, intergenerational trauma among Indigenous people. Children were removed from their families, forbidden to speak their ancestral languages, disconnected from their culture and traditions and forced to adopt Christianity in order to assimilate into Canadian society.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates that more than 6,000 children died in the overcrowded residential schools. Students were underfed and malnourished, increasing their vulnerability to diseases. Many suffered physical or sexual abuse. In some cases, children were heavily beaten, chained or confined. 
According to a 2018 survey by the First Nations Information Governance Centre, residential school survivors and those whose parents or grandparents attended were more likely to have considered suicide at some time in their life and had higher rates of binge drinking and drug use.
Orange Shirt Day Origin
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 when Phyllis Webstad told her orange shirt story. Phyllis attended St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in Williams Lake, BC in the 70s. On her first day of school, her crisp new orange shirt – a gift from her grandmother – was stripped away from her. She was forced to wear the school uniform and her shirt was never returned to her. To Phyllis, the colour orange has always reminded her of her experiences at residential school – how her feelings didn’t matter, how she felt worthless and no one cared about her. The impact of the trauma continues to affect Phyllis’ life. 
Orange Shirt Day occurs in early fall because this is the time of year when children were removed from their families and forced to attend residential schools.
We are calling on people across Canada to wear an orange shirt on September 30 in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, and to show that every child matters.
Watch Phyllis’ story
Photo credit: Province of British Columbia (Flickr Creative Commons)