The day that raises awareness about residential schools was inspired by a heart-wrenching story
Why do people wear orange shirts on September 30? And what does this bright color have to do with residential schools in Canada? Here’s a quick primer.
1. Orange Shirt Day references a real orange shirt taken from a residential school survivor
Now an adult, Phyllis Webstad still remembers the new orange shirt that her grandmother bought for her when she was six years old. She wore it proudly on her first day at a church-run residential school in Williams Lake, B.C. But then school authorities stripped her of her clothes, cut her hair, and took her shirt away. She never got it back.
2. The day aims to raise awareness of the residential school system in Canada
Webstad is one of more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who attended Indian residential schools in Canada between the late 1800s and 1996. These schools were operated by the Canadian government and church organizations and were part of Canada’s official policy that aimed to eliminate Indigenous Peoples’ languages and cultures and, through assimilation, cause them to cease to exist as distinct peoples.
3. Wearing an orange shirt reminds us of the impact of residential schools still felt today
Residential schools are not far in the past; the last one closed in 1996. As Webstad’s story attests, many survivors are still coping with the trauma from their time at the schools, including physical and sexual abuse. The intergenerational impact is still felt through communities.
Orange Shirt Day was created as an opportunity to discuss the effects of residential schools and their legacy. It honors the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, celebrates resilience, and affirms a commitment that every child matters.