If you happen to have an orange shirt in your closet, consider wearing it today (Monday, Sept. 30). Orange Shirt Day is a relatively new effort to raise awareness and remember the indigenous children who suffered in Canada’s residential school system, a system that stripped them of their languages, cultures, spiritual traditions and their very identities.
The practice is not as wide spread in the United States, which has a similar ugly history with American Indian boarding schools. Some people in the United States have followed Canada’s lead.
Residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad provided the inspiration for Orange Shirt Day. During a 2013 school commemoration for St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake, British Columbia, Webstad shared her story. It’s posted on the Orange Shirt Day website:
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.
According to Wikipedia:
Phyllis’ experience is used today to teach students about residential schools and their assimilation practices. The date of September 30 was chosen for the annual event because it is the time of year in which Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to residential schools.
Canada is considering adding Orange Shirt Day as a national holiday, according to an article published Sunday on the CTV News website. Politics apparently stalled action on the bill this year. Orange Shirt Day “would have created a sixth national statutory holiday, to join New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day,” the article said.