Orange Shirt Day raises awareness on the forced removal of Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to Residential Schools, including the consequences of cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is a day to remember and honor the survivors of these schools and to acknowledge the harm inflicted upon Indigenous communities by the Catholic Church and the Canadian government’s policies of assimilation and cultural erasure. It acknowledges the suffering and resilience of survivors and their families, and encourages dialogue and education about the history of residential schools, the impact they had on Indigenous communities, and the need for reconciliation.
The name “Orange Shirt Day” comes from the story of Phyllis Webstad, a survivor of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School. When she was six years old and about to attend the residential school, her grandmother bought her a new, bright orange shirt to wear on her first day at the school. But when Phyllis arrived at the school, the staff forcibly took her orange shirt away, and told her she was not allowed to wear it. This experience deeply impacted her, and the orange shirt became a symbol of the loss of her identity, culture, and personal connection to her family.
“Every Child Matters” acknowledges the historical injustices faced by Indigenous children, particularly through the Indian Residential School system in Canada, emphasizing their inherent worth, cultural identity, and well-being. It serves as a rallying cry for reconciliation efforts, raising awareness, and fostering unity among Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous allies, while celebrating resilience and promoting a brighter, more equitable future for all children, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds.
The significance of September 30th in relation to Orange Shirt Day is tied to the start of the school year. In many Indigenous communities, children were taken away from their families and communities by Canadian authorities and church-run organizations in the late summer or early fall. The start of the school year symbolized the beginning of the traumatic separation from their families and cultures.