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Orange Shirt Day
What is Orange Shirt Day? “Every Child Matters”
The holiday seeks to recognize and honor those who survived Indian residential schools and to demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that, today, every child matters.
In the spirit of recognition and healing, Orange Shirt Day asks that all Canadians wear an orange shirt as a symbolic and collective commitment to reconciliation.
Orange Shirt Day really began in 1973, when a six year old girl named Phyllis Webstad went to school at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School outside Williams Lake, BC. She was proudly wearing a brand new orange shirt, which was a rare opportunity for a young First Nations girl. The shirt was quickly stripped from her by the Mission Oblates and, with it, her sense of self-worth, pride, and dignity in a way that would shape her forever.
In Canada, the Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples funded entirely by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches. These schools sought to remove Indigenous children from their homes and, by doing so, strip them of their Native culture and assimilate them into Canadian culture. The earliest recognized residential school was the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario in 1831, while the last federally run residential school closed in 1996.
These schools sought to remove Indigenous children from their homes and, by doing so, strip them of their Native culture and assimilate them into Canadian culture.
Understanding Orange Shirt Day & Every Child Matters
Indigenous children were removed from their homes and communities and forced to attend these schools -- where they often faced physical and sexual abuse and were forced to leave their culture and their language behind. The survivors of these schools were left feeling completely cut off from their Indigenous culture, isolated, and traumatized.
The effects of the residential school system are still felt today -- not only by individuals, but by Indigenous culture and communities as a whole. To this day, many children remain missing or unaccounted for, which only extends the cultural trauma inflicted upon Indigenous people by this cruel system.
Today, the primary objective is awareness. We need to be accurately educated about the history of residential schools and Indigenous oppression throughout Canada’s history in order to make certain that Indigenous people are allowed to thrive and celebrate their culture from now on. The more educated we become about Canada’s history, the more successfully we can move forward as a nation.
This is largely because Indigenous people continue to be systematically oppressed throughout the world. It continues to be difficult for Indigenous people to share, learn about, and celebrate our culture. By keeping these dark parts of Canada’s history a secret, it keeps the government, religious institutions, and the other oppressors from having to take any responsibility for generations of inflicted trauma.
What is Every Child Matters?
“Every Child Matters” is the movement that recognizes, honors, and celebrates the experiences of Indigenous children who went through the residential school system. Every Child Matters has become the slogan for this movement, seeking to honor every single child that was forced into the system and away from their families.
The intention is to raise awareness about the residential school system in Canada and as a way to join together in the spirit of reconciliation. This movement honors the more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children who attended residential schools.
Part of the Every Child Matter movement is Orange Shirt Day, an annual day that recognizes this part of Canadian history and seeks to honor Indigenous people by wearing orange shirts.