29 Sep National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (Orange Shirt Day)
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30), also known as Orange Shirt Day, honours the children who never returned and Survivors of the residential school system. It recognizes the ongoing impacts of the residential school system on Survivors, their families and communities.
The colour orange was chosen because of Phyllis Webstad’s experiences. She wore a brand new orange shirt for her first day of school at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, outside of Williams Lake, BC in 1973. Phyllis was quickly stripped of her new shirt and provided an institutional uniform. Today, her story is used to represent the survivors who had their possessions and identities stripped from them in the residential school system.
The last Residential School was only closed in 1996. Mass graves of children who never made it home continue to be found at Residential School sites. Survivors and the children who died in the schools, their families and communities will have ongoing effects for generations. Through meaningful conversation, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation aims to amplify Indigenous voices through anti-racism practices in schools across Canada. It highlights healing as a priority in the process of addressing intergenerational trauma.
Breaking the silence and listening to testimonies of residential school survivors is a crucial first step in the process of healing. Listening and having conversations helps to raise awareness, establish national recognition and visibility, and to create positive changes. Orange Shirt Day gives space and provides the opportunity for children to understand the experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children. However, it is important for settlers and Canadian systems to be implementing these practices in their daily lives including teaching and learning about Indigenous peoples and colonialism in schools.
While the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation facilitates conversations about intergenerational trauma and healing, it is also a very difficult day for those directly affected. It is important to practice mindfulness, not only on September 30th, but all year round because colonial policies and practices continue in Canadian systems.
The reclamation of culture is another significant yet difficult step to take for those experiencing intergenerational trauma. As a result of the residential school system, many Indigenous cultures and practices were silenced, making the reclamation of languages, traditions, values, beliefs, healing practices, and art forms all the more difficult. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to highlight the resilience of Indigenous peoples and support the reclamation and celebration of culture, language and traditions.
Through the reclamation of culture, a community is established and embraced. Embracing community involves building new social, cultural and community relationships that act as support systems in the healing process.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation promotes healing, diversity and anti-oppression across Canada both in and out of schools. By wearing Orange, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people show their support for residential school survivors on September 30th every year. However, we need to implement the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada within institutions and systems, including child welfare, education, health, justice, language and culture and to comply with all international laws including United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous People.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.
Orange Shirt day. Orange Shirt Day. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.orangeshirtday.org/
Intergenerational Trauma and Healing. (2021). MDPI – Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.