Orange Shirt Day is both a grim remembrance and a celebration of a commitment to change.
On September 30, 2020, the seventh Orange Shirt Day will take place in Canada to remember that ‘every child matters’, and to spread awareness about how thousands of Indigenous children were treated and mistreated in Canada’s residential school system, which existed between 1891 and 1981. The practice of seizing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in residential schools was rooted in the goal of the Canadian government at that time, to extinguish First Nations from Canadian society.
The residential school system has been widely recognized as cultural genocide.
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013, inspired by the story of Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor who lives in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
As a 6-year-old, entering St. Joseph Mission Residential School , Webstad was gifted an orange shirt by her grandmother on her first day of school in the early 1970’s. That gift was taken from her on her very first day at school, after she was stripped naked. It would never be returned. The orange shirt would come to symbolize the rights of Indigenous children that were taken away in the residential school system.
Joan Sorley, a non-Indigenous, friend of Webstad came up with the idea of Orange Shirt Day in 2013, as a way to remember the horrors thousands of First Nations families suffered and to educate current and future generations about truth and reconciliation. She currently serves as the Secretary – Treasurer of the Orange Shirt Society.
Sorley spoke to Lianne Castelino of WhereParentsTalk TV in advance of the 2020 celebration about her involvement in the event and how this deep scar and the wounds left on generations of First Nations families has impacted her as a parent of 5, grandmother of 8 and great-grandmother of two.