Every year on September 30th Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast participate in Orange Shirt Day. The National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) and New Journeys recognize that this day is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of residential schools and the legacy they have left behind. A discussion that all Canadians can tune into where bridges are created with each other for reconciliation. A day for survivors and those impacted by residential schools to be reaffirmed that they matter, and their experiences are acknowledged in a respectful manner. Every Child Matters, even if they find themselves as an adult today. We recognize and honour all residential school survivors and those who were not able to make it home.
How did Orange Shirt Day begin? The movement grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s account of having her sparkly, new, orange t-shirt taken away on her first day of St. Joseph Mission residential school. In 2013 she shared the story during a community commemoration in Williams Lake, BC. Webstad said, “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.” The date of September 30th was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools.
Phyllis Webstad is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She comes from mixed Secwepemc and Irish/French heritage, was born in Dog Creek, and lives in Williams Lake, B.C. In 2017, Phyllis received the TRU Distinguished Alumni Award for her unprecedented impact on local, provincial, national and international communities through the sharing of her orange shirt story. Two weeks before that in Vancouver, Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, encouraged Webstad to share her orange shirt story with others. Since then, Orange Shirt Day has become an annual opportunity to keep the discussion happening on all aspects of residential schools.
When asked to reflect on this year’s Orange Shirt Day the NAFC President, Christopher Sheppard says, “Part of walking in reconciliation is to understand that we all have a responsibility to participate.” NAFC & New Journeys are strong supporters of Orange Shirt Day and hope that everyone can take the opportunity today to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.