Orange Shirt Day: Recognizing the Injustice of Residential Schools

On Wednesday, September 30th, Canadians are encouraged to come together (in spirit) and wear orange shirts in recognition of the harm caused by the residential school system - paying remembrance to the lives claimed, and showing respect to the survivors. Residential schools are a dark part of Canadian history that is often swept under the rug, but by collectively wearing orange shirts, we can make the statement that every child matters, combatting the low self-esteem that residential schools instilled in Indigenous Youth. 


The story behind the origin of Orange Shirt Day is simple. Phyllis Webstad (pictured below), of Dog Creek, BC is one of over 150,000 children who were in the residential school system. When she was 6 years old, she had her first day of Mission School, ready to go in a brand new orange shirt that her grandmother bought her. Right away, she was stripped of her clothes, and was never able to wear her orange shirt again. As a result, to Phyllis the orange shirt symbolizes the mistreatment and lack of significance she was shown, and the loss of the shirt parallels the loss of language, culture, freedom, family and worth felt by Indigenous people due to the residential school system. 

Since 2013, this movement has served as opportunities to oppose the injustices of the residential school system, stand with the Indigenous community, and demonstrate commitment to inclusivity. Canada regards itself as just and inclusive (by comparing itself to other countries), but in truth there have been and continue to be cases of extraordinary racial injustice, particularly against Indigenous peoples. In order to be truly anti-racist and effective allies, we should unlearn our blissful ignorance of viewing Canada as perfect, and recognize the history of harm committed against certain communities. As we unlearn, we can educate ourselves about residential schooling, assimilation, and reconciliation, to be inclusive and actively anti-racist. We can take a huge step in this process by participating on Orange Shirt day this Wednesday.

 

Orange Shirt Day: Recognizing the Injustice of Residential Schools