National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (otherwise known as Orange Shirt Day)
On September 30th, Canada is recognizing the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day. The Government of Canada passed this statutory legislation in hopes of providing an opportunity for Canada to recognize and remember the unfortunate truth of residential schools. While this is a paid day for public service workers (treated like Remembrance Day), it is a day for all (private sector included) to reflect, learn and understand.
The information below was thoughtfully put together by our own Abby Yzereef, who is a member of the Dokis First Nation.
Common Questions about Residential Schools and Orange Shirt Day
How long did residential schools operate?
The first residential school opened in Brantford, Ontario in 1828. The last one closed in Punnichy, Saskatchewan in 1996. It was the last federally funded residential school in Canada. Most of the schools operated between the early 1880’s through to the early 1970’s. The survivors of these schools are still alive today living with many complex traumas that have lasting effects through multiple generations of their families.
How many children died at residential schools? Why?
It is estimated by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that 6000 children died at residential schools. Records are unfortunately incomplete and/or withheld. The number is likely much larger because almost 6000 bodies have already been found. Neglect, malnutrition, abuse, suicide, attempted escapes were all common causes of death at these schools.
What is the story behind Orange Shirt Day?
The date of Orange Shirt Day – September 30th – was chosen because historically it was the day indigenous children would be taken from their homes to attend residential schools. Today, it is seen as an opportunity to educate youth at the beginning of the school year about anti-racism and anti-bullying in the spirit of reconciliation. The significance of the orange shirt is in regards to the original story in which a young girl, Phyllis Webstad, was given an orange shirt from her grandmother for her first day of school at St. Joseph's Mission residential school in British Columbia. When Phyllis got to school, they took away her clothes, including her new shirt. It was never returned. The colour orange forever reminded Phyllis of her experiences at residential schools, “how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.” (Phyllis Webstad, CBC)
You can listen to Phyllis’s story here: https://youtu.be/ll1pUrK29MM
Some resources to access to learn more
the University of Alberta is offering a free 12 week course on called Indigenous Canada. It is taken online and is about an hour commitment every week and you can start it at any time.
If you would like to donate to Indian Residential School Survivors Society you can do that here:
Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Reports:
Check out an Indigenous event near you:
Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario and Saskatchewan's Indigenous Awareness Webinar