Every Child Matters is a picture book by Phyllis Webstad, pictured, and illustrated by Karlene Harvey. (Medicine Wheel Publishing)
WHAT IS ORANGE SHIRT DAY AND WHAT DOES IT REPRESENT?
Despite the profound and detrimental impacts of residential schools, this dark period in Canadian history was seldom acknowledged or discussed by non-Indigenous Peoples before the creation of Orange Shirt Day and National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Orange Shirt Day was created to acknowledge the damage that was done in residential schools, and to give a platform for survivors to share their stories.
Who is Phyllis (Jack) Webstad?
Chief Fred Robbins was instrumental in developing Orange Shirt Day. A former student of Williams Lake, BC’s St. Joseph Mission Residential School, Chief Robbins spearheaded the St Josephs Mission Residential School Commemorative Project, which offered Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples a space to remember, recover, and reconcile.
During one of its events in May 2013, former residential student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, shared her story. She explains that her brand-new orange shirt—given to her by her grandmother—was taken from her when she was just six-year-old on her first day at residential school.
“When I got to the Mission (school), 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 colour 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 says.
While Webstad survived and got professional support when she was 27, these feelings would stay with her throughout her life.
She reflects, “I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter. Even with all the work I’ve done!”
In July 2014, the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs-in-Assembly passed an official resolution declaring September 30th as Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day is observed on this day because it was the day when Indigenous children like Phyllis were removed from their homes.
On September 30th, thousands of Canadians wear orange to acknowledge what Phyllis and so many others went through, and to reaffirm that Every Child Matters.
POSITIVE OUTCOMES FROM ORANGE SHIRT DAY: EVERY CHILD MATTERS
Acknowledging the painful legacy of residential schools in Canada is our collective responsibility. We all have a role to play in listening to the stories of how Indigenous communities were deeply scarred. While these stories are painful, they’re of vital importance if we’re to move forward in truth and toward reconciliation.
Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters, and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation support the following outcomes:
Increased awareness and education
Canadians are becoming more aware of the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples, and the ongoing trauma caused by residential schools.
This increased awareness about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples creates a positive cycle which has prompted more Canadians to stand in solidarity with them.
Progress toward Truth and Reconciliation
With more education and awareness, the government and many Canadians are increasingly committed to Truth and Reconciliation. They are working collectively with Indigenous communities to remedy past wrongs and create a positive future in which the country takes responsibility for its egregious wrongdoings, and survivors prevail in their quest for recognition, healing, and justice.
Hope for Healing for Indigenous Peoples
While residential schools may be in the past, they created profound generational trauma in Indigenous communities. As such, their legacy is very much part of Canada’s present and future. Thousands of children were killed in residential schools, while countless others suffered unthinkable physical and sexual abuse. Still others went missing, and their bodies were never found. Their families still don’t have closure regarding their fates.
Orange Shirt Day ensures that none of these stories are lost. It pays homage to children who did not make it back to their families, while also prioritizing healing for survivors.
How You Can Get Involved
While there’ve been many positive outcomes resulting from increased awareness about Canada’s residential schools and the need for reconciliation, we’ve still got a long way to go. The best way to get there? Together. The most meaningful progress will be made only with the continued support and collective action of all Canadians.
There are many ways you can do your part to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples — not just on Orange Shirt Day, but every day. Here are some places to start:
Learn more about National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Help break the cycle by educating yourself about residential schools and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Wear Orange on Orange Shirt Day
This simple act makes a huge difference. In addition to honouring Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story, the colour is also uniquely symbolic due to the Indigenous Peoples’ connection to fire.
Mohawk faithkeeper (Roterihonton) Kevin Deer told the Toronto Star, “We can turn the colour into goodness if we see orange in a different way. Orange is the colour of fire…in its flames are the stories of our ancestors who gathered around fire not only for warmth but to socialize, to remember, to dance and sing.”
Make a Donation to Support the Cause
Unite for Change stands in solidarity with Indigenous communities. You can, too, by making a donation to the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund.
In addition to residential schools, Canada’s Indigenous Peoples have faced systemic discrimination, and harmful government policies. Racism has also created historic and modern injustices and inequalities, including long-term drinking water advisories, unequal access to healthcare and education, mental health crises for young people, and economic inequality.
Your gift will help support truth and reconciliation while also helping to fund Indigenous ingenuity and brilliance within Indigenous-led organizations. These organizations are essential in rebuilding traditional culture and language that was passed from generation-to-generation but lost or damaged from government-led assimilation practices. They also offer services and support founded in Indigenous knowledge, which uplifts an emerging generation of leaders.
We can all play a role in redressing past harm, supporting survivors, and laying the groundwork for reconciliation. Orange Shirt Day is just onestep on the path to healing. But we have to start somewhere.
Buy the Book:
Mental health Supports Available
Former residential school students can call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.
Indigenous peoples across Canada can also go to The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for counselling and crisis intervention.