On this day of September 30th, we call upon humanity to listen with open ears to the stories of survivors and their families, and to remember those that didn’t make it.
— Orange Shirt Society
September 30th marks Orange Shirt Day and National Truth and Reconciliation Day. This day of reconciliation and remembrance is the legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, B.C. in May 2013. The vision of of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, the project brought together residential school survivors and their families from the Secwepemc, Silhqot’in, Southern Dakelh, and St’at’imc Nations, as well as the Cariboo Regional District, city officials, school districts and civil organizations.
Leading up to the event, former student and spokesperson for the Reunion group Phyllis (Jack) Webster (Northern Secwpemc from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation) shared her story. On her first day at residential school, where her brand-new orange shirt, gifted to her from her grandmother, was taken from her when she was only six years old:
“I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!
When I got to the Mission, 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 color 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.”
Read the full story here.
The date of September 30th was chosen for Orange Shirt Day as it was the day that many Indigenous children and youth were taken from their homes to residential schools.
“The annual Orange Shirt Day on September 30th opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of Residential Schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind.” describes the Orange Shirt Society, “A discussion all Canadians can tune into and create bridges with each other for reconciliation. A day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those that have been affected. Every Child Matters, even if they are an adult, from now on.”
Begin learning more about the history of residential schools with this video, narrated by Phyllis (Jack) Webster:
Support Indigenous Communities and Residential School Survivors by Buying an Orange Shirt
The B.C. Wildlife Federation stands with survivors and is committed to ongoing reconciliation efforts. We encourage our followers, supporters, staff, and members to learn about the devastating history of Residential Schools in Canada and work towards reconciliation and decolonization efforts in their day to day lives.
In preparation for Orange Shirt Day, we implore everyone to learn the Indigenous community whose land you live, learn and play on. After doing so, support these communities by visiting your local Band office, Friendship Center, or community office to purchase an orange shirt, ensuring the proceeds will return to Indigenous communities and Residential School survivors.