- Cultural Calendar
Sometimes small things can have powerful resonance—like the favorite orange shirt of a little girl going off to a new school for the first time.
Proudly worn almost 50 years ago by six-year-old Phyllis Webstad of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), that orange shirt was her most treasured possession, and she was excited to wear it off to the St. Joseph Mission school. When she arrived, however, all of her clothes (including her treasured orange shirt) were taken away from her, never to be returned, and replaced by an ugly and uncomfortable school uniform.
It was one moment among those of thousands of others suffered by Indigenous children, but that lost orange shirt has now become a symbol of the annual movement known as Orange Shirt Day, celebrated each year on September 30.
Also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day is a day of remembrance for the victims and survivors of 160 years of government-run Canadian and American Boarding and Residential schools.
Designed to forcibly isolate and then strip Indigenous and First Nations children of their culture, language, way of life, and even their names, these U.S. and Canadian government-run Residential and Boarding school systems had a profound, lasting, and devastating impact upon Indigenous, First Nations, and Native American individuals and communities in the United States and Canada.
There were over 130 residential schools in Canada, open between 1831 and 1997. The United States had over 400 boarding schools between 1869 and the 1970s. The schools were frequently and deliberately located in isolated locations far from the children's homes and families (as well as from any lawful accountability) and the actions of many against Indigenous children were carried out in environments of abuse, neglect, and torture, with the devastating effects of these schools including lifelong trauma and loss of life—with the identities of many of the victims still unknown or unacknowledged.
Several hundred thousand Indigenous children attended the schools in the United States, along with 150,000 attending schools in Canada and British Columbia. Last year, the remains of 215 children were discovered in an unmarked grave at one former school location. This led to discoveries of hundreds more in Canada and an investigation into former school sites in the United States, as well.
It's no surprise that the effects of these abuses and losses are still being felt today by those who survived them, as well as by their families and descendants.
The Orange Shirt Day movement began in Canada in May 2013, with a single memorial, healing, and reconciliation ceremony as First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada gathered to honor victims and survivors of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C., Canada.
At the 2013 St. Joseph Mission Residential School event, residential school survivor Phyllis was interviewed for a short video documentary, and spoke movingly of how, when she was six years old, she had picked out that new, shiny orange shirt to wear for her first day of school, and how it was taken from her upon arrival at the Mission school. Phyllis's simple and poignant story resonated with others, and soon Orange Shirt Day became an annual event with the official tagline, "Every Child Matters," to remind everyone that all people’s cultural experiences are important. The day is now widely observed across much of North America, with Indigenous people and their allies wearing orange on the day to show solidarity, and in an effort to continue to raise awareness about the lasting aftereffects of the Residential and Boarding schools so that those events are never forgotten—or repeated.
To honor Orange Shirt Day across PSESD, some of our Native students and faculty at many schools will be wearing orange shirts today, and we encourage you to show your solidarity and support when you encounter them.
Check out the following links to learn more about Orange Shirt Day:
Orange Shirt Day (Main Website and Mission)
Residential School Experiences (It’s Our Time Educational Toolkit, from Assembly of First Nations)