Wednesday, September 30 is Orange Shirt Day all over Canada, a day to remember the atrocities of Canadian residential schools, which were in operation from about 1876 until 1996. These boarding schools forcibly took First Nations children from their families, forbade them to speak their native languages, an
d abused them until much of the link was broken between the children and their ancestry. This was commonly referred to as “killing the Indian in the child,” and was the explicit goal of residential schooling.
The generational trauma that this isolation and abuse caused can still be felt throughout First Nations communities today. Check out the hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, and #MMIWG2S online for more information about the epidemic of gender-related violence against indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
Orange Shirt Day specifically recalls the orange shirt that Phyllis Webstad, a member of the Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) Nation, had picked out to wear on her first day of residential school in 1973. “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.”
She describes how separating indigenous children from their families hurt their abilities to forge family connections later in life: “I was 13.8 years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born. Because my grandmother and mother both attended residential school for 10 years each, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like.”
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commision found that residential schooling was a form of cultural genocide. Today, we observe Orange Shirt Day to show respect and sorrow for what more than 150,000 First Nations children went through, a system that by conservative estimates murdered at least 3,000 of them.
“Every Child Matters” is the motto of Orange Shirt Day, a reminder that no matter who they are, children deserve to be loved, respected, and nurtured. Events being held this year in Alberta include observances in Edmonton, Calgary, and Taber. Details are available here: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/alberta.html
The Stettler Public Library will also be holding two children’s events for Orange Shirt Day this Saturday, September 26th: one at 11:00 am and again at 3:00 so that you can attend whichever works for your own family’s schedule. They will feature stories and crafts for ages 6+. Please call 403-742-2292 to pre-register.
For more information about Orange Shirt Day and Canada’s history of residential schools, visit https://www.orangeshirtday.org/.