September 30th is Orange Shirt Day in Canada, a day set aside to remember the experiences and loss of the thousands of children who were stolen from their families and placed in Indian Residential Schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind.
Why orange shirts? Orange Shirt Day grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s story of having her new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually. You can read Phyllis’ story at orangeshirtday.org
Why September 30th? The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. Orange Shirt 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.
From Shana Dion, Assistant Dean, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students of the University of Alberta:
“Autumn can be the saddest time for so many survivors because the changing of the leaves means that they were not going to see their families for a very long time (a full school year), or sadly never see their families again. Most of us now can hardly leave our little ones in daycare or school for a day, never mind a whole year of wondering ‘how they are doing?’, ‘are they happy?’, ‘are they having a good day?’, ‘has anyone hurt them?’, or ‘are they sick or in pain?’. For the most part there was little to no communication between children sent to Indian Residential School and their families; can you imagine?
“Imagine being taken away from your parents at the age of five. Being given a number instead of a name. Being punished for speaking the only language you know. Being cut off from your family. Imagine being a parent, and being threatened with jail if you didn’t give up your children. Imagine being cut off from your children for ten years! What would it do to your family?
“I wear my orange shirt to honour inter-generational survivors. I honour their pain and peace. I honour their love and sorrow. I honour their brokenness and resilience. I honour their grit and grace. I honour their shame and pride. I honour their loneliness and lovability. I honour their sadness and humor. We are the sum of many parts all to be honored equally.”
I shared this today to raise awareness on a topic I knew little about until I immersed myself in the ongoing Indigenous Canada course offered by the University of Alberta. As a non-indigenous person, it isn’t enough to empathize with the Indigenous or to acknowledge my country’s shameful colonial past in this area. It isn’t enough to understand the intergenerational trauma that the residential school system has caused, with all its ramifications, or to say I’m not a racist. Rather, I am an ally and an anti-racist, which involves action. This is one small step in that direction. – JKP
Sources: University of Alberta Native Studies; orangeshirtday.org