National Orange Shirt day promotes healing and reconciliation.
Sept. 30, 2016, has been officially proclaimed as “Orange Shirt Day” in Saskatchewan as an opportunity to ensure discussion happens about residential schools.
This marks the first year that Orange Shirt Day has been officially recognized in the province.
Orange Shirt Day is “an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in a spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.”
The movement is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, B.C., in 2013. It grew out of the account of a young girl having her new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission. In the fall of 1973, six-year-old Phyllis Webstad’s grandmother took her to the local general store and bought her an orange shirt for her first day of school. She was proud of this beautiful new shirt and beamed as she wore it.
When Phyllis arrived at St. Joseph Mission Residential School near Williams Lake, B.C., the shirt was taken from her, and she had to wear the school uniform. The shirt was never returned.
At the Saskatchewan School Boards Association Spring General Assembly in April, members passed a resolution to request that the Government of Saskatchewan officially recognize this day.
The Orange Shirt Campaign – Every Child Matters remembers the experiences of former students of Indian Residential Schools and is a commitment to ongoing reconciliation in Canada.
The campaign grew out of Phyllis’s account of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the St. Joseph Mission in Williams Lake, BC. The awareness campaign is an opportunity to continue the discussion on all aspects of residential schools each year.
We encourage all students, staff and community members to wear orange on Friday to bring awareness and understanding of the residential school experience.
Later, Phyllis saw other children at the school wearing it. She knew it was hers and said so, but no one listened. One can only imagine the confusion and sadness this child experienced.
These feelings went unresolved for many years.
It’s said our greatest sufferings can bring about our greatest triumphs. Forty years later, Phyllis spearheaded the Orange Shirt Day movement to raise awareness about crimes committed against aboriginal children from 1831 to 1996 in the residential school system and to promote healing.
Today, Canadians wear orange shirts Sept. 30 to honour the children who endured residential schools.
The intent of the residential school system was "to kill the Indian in the child," historic documents tell us. All these people held dear was taken away. For generations, children were forced to leave the warmth of their families to attend cold, overcrowded institutions where abuse was rampant.
Children and their parents often didn’t see each other for years. Villages were devoid of laughter, and parents and grandparents had no one to teach. Children, far away at the schools, had no one to wipe away their tears.
In these institutions, children were not allowed to speak their language or to learn their traditions. They were taught to do manual labour deemed worthy by white culture instead of the work their people had done for centuries, work that allowed them to thrive in the harsh Canadian environment. Ironically, they had taught the skills of their culture to the first European settlers so the settlers could avoid dying of hunger, cold and scurvy