September 30th is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and Orange T-Shirt Day, both of which honour children that attended residential schools and the intergenerational impact that these schools have left behind.
The symbol of the orange t-shirt is inspired by the story of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad who is from Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) in Williams Lake, B.C.
In 1973, Phyllis was six years-old and was about to attend her first day of school. At the time she was living with her grandmother, who brought her to the store to buy a new outfit for her first day. Phyllis picked out a bright orange shirt that laced up at the front and she was so excited to wear it. Once she arrived at school, it was quickly removed and disposed of, never to be seen again, creating a sense of insignificance, unimportance, and vulnerability.
What does it mean to wear orange on September 30th?
The orange t-shirt symbolizes the stripping of culture, freedom, and self-expression and the date of September 30th represents the time of year when students would begin school. Wearing orange is an acknowledgement that residential schools, attempted assimilation, and colonization is a part of Canadian history imposed onto Indigenous peoples and communities. It is a symbol of all the losses children, families, and communities endured and are enduring. Loss of culture, language, family, and freedom. Participating in Orange T-Shirt Day is an act of reconciliation, creating awareness, showing support and understanding, and making a commitment to never let another child live through these experiences ever again. It is seen as an act of healing.
Phyllis Webstad is now the founder of the Orange Shirt Society.
How can I help?
Start the conversation with your littles. Phyllis Webstad herself has published a children’s book titled “With our Orange Hearts” which creates an age-appropriate starting point. You can visit Phyllis Webstad's website, https://orangeshirtday.org/, to learn more about the initiatives the Orange Shirt Society has in place, to donate to the cause, and to find age appropriate learning material for the classroom (encourage your children’s teachers to speak about this topic in class). Changing the future starts with educating the children of today.
Every Child Matters.