What is Orange Shirt Day / National Day for Truth & Reconciliation?

On September 30th, every year, people across Canada come together to participate in Orange Shirt Day. This day serves as a powerful reminder of the historical injustices faced by Indigenous children in the residential school system. Orange Shirt Day is not just about wearing orange; it symbolizes our collective commitment to recognizing the past, acknowledging the pain it caused, and striving for a future where every child matters.

Why Orange Shirts?

The roots of Orange Shirt Day can be traced back to the experiences of Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor from British Columbia.

 In 1973, when Phyllis was just six years old, she arrived at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School. On her first day, she wore a bright orange shirt that her grandmother had given her. However, upon her arrival, school staff confiscated her cherished orange shirt, leaving her with a sense of shame and loss.

The orange shirt taken from Phyllis at the residential school represents the loss of identity, culture, and self-esteem that countless Indigenous children endured throughout Canada’s history. Today, the orange shirt serves as a symbol of remembrance, a promise to never forget, and a commitment to preventing such injustices from happening again.

Learn more about Phyllis’ story and the history of Orange Shirt Day.

Why is September 30th significant?

September 30th was chosen as the date for Orange Shirt Day because it coincides with the time of year when Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to residential schools. It’s a date for everyone to pause and reflect on the pain and suffering endured by these children. It’s a day when everyone should take the opportunity for reflection, education, and open dialogue about the lasting impact of the residential school system on Indigenous communities and the nation as a whole.

What is the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation? How is it different from Orange Shirt Day?

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) is a holiday created to recognize the legacy of the Canadian residential school system, observed on September 30th. The day is more colloquially known as Orange Shirt Day, started in 2013 as a grassroots movement, initiated by the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project

Often when First Light communicates about September 30th, we use the title Orange Shirt Day, acknowledging the grassroots movement started in 2013. However, both names for the day can be used interchangeably, and you may see both being used depending on the context or who is speaking. 

In 2021, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-5, making September 30 a federal statutory day, with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation title. NDTR was established as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, which called for the establishment of a national day to honor the survivors of residential schools and to promote awareness, understanding, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

As of 2023, NDTR is currently a statutory holiday for:

  • federal government employees and federally regulated private-sectors;
  • provincial/territorial employees and provincially/territorially-regulated businesses in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Nunavut;
  • all workers in British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon.

In Newfoundland and Labrador September 30th has been designated a government holiday, meaning schools and government offices will be closed. 

What was the residential school system?

Canada’s residential school system was established in the late 19th century and persisted well into the 20th century. Its primary goal was to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, a process that involved forcibly separating them from their families and suppressing their cultural practices, languages, and identities. The harm inflicted upon these children was immeasurable, including emotional, physical, and psychological suffering. They endured neglect, abuse, and even death within the confines of these institutions.

The consequences have extended far beyond the immediate suffering experienced by those who attended these schools. Generational trauma, the pain and emotional scars passed down through families and communities, continues to reverberate through Indigenous communities today. This enduring legacy underscores the urgent need for healing, reconciliation, and the ongoing commitment to ensuring that such injustices are never repeated.

To learn more about residential schools and many other topics, sign up for one of our cultural diversity training sessions.

What can I do?

Wearing an orange shirt on September 30th is a powerful symbol of your commitment to reconciliation and remembrance. But it should be more than just a gesture; it should be a catalyst for meaningful action. We all have a responsibility to go beyond the symbolism and actively engage in the process of healing and reconciliation.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Wear Orange: If you don’t have a shirt yet, check out our shop & get yours now.
  • Donate to First Light’s Residential School Memorial Garden
  • Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about the history of residential schools in Canada. Understand the depth of the suffering and the long-lasting impact on Indigenous communities.
  • Listen and Learn from Survivors: If you have the opportunity, listen to the stories of residential school survivors. Their firsthand accounts provide invaluable insights into the experiences and the resilience of Indigenous peoples.
  • Advocate for Change: Advocate for changes in education, policy, and government actions that promote reconciliation and address the ongoing inequalities faced by Indigenous communities.
  • Engage in Difficult Conversations: Engage in open and respectful conversations with family and friends about the legacy of residential schools. Encourage dialogue, empathy, and understanding.

Remember, wearing an orange shirt is a start, but true reconciliation requires ongoing commitment and action from each of us.

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