- New statutory holiday in Canada – September 30, 2021
Orange Shirt Day is based on the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who was sent to St. Joseph Mission Residential School when she turned six. The shiny new orange shirt she was wearing when she arrived at The Mission was taken away from her and she was forced to wear a uniform. Webstad introduces each video on the Orange Shirt Day website and she tells her own story.
On Orange Shirt Day, we reflect on the lived experiences of children who were sent to residential schools. The children were stripped of their own culture, languages, identities, and dignity and were forced to assimilate into European culture. Some never returned home. September 30 is the day when trucks and buses would come to take the children away to residential schools. Some elders refer to September as the “crying month.”
Webstadt first told her story in preparation for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013. The decision was made to honour the orange shirt as a symbol of the effects of residential schools and to honour the stories of generations of students, over 150,000 of them, who went to these schools in Canada from 1831 until 1996 when the last one finally closed.
Hundreds of unmarked graves have been found on properties of residential schools in the spring and summer of this year, confirming what former residents knew all along. They were the bodies of children who had gone missing, only to be found now.
“The missing children have awakened all of us to the reality of the history of this country,” says Webstadt.
We wear orange shirts on Orange Shirt Day to show solidarity with those who survived residential schools and those who did not.
The goal, says Webstadt, is to teach everyone about what happened in the past and to highlight the progress made on reconciliation between Indigenous Peoples and Canadian society.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
This year marks the first year for a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR), an official federal, statutory holiday that also falls on September 30. Similarly, NDTR commemorates residential school survivors, their families, communities and those who did not survive.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the group tasked with investigating what really happened to the children who were sent to residential schools, made a list of recommendations at the end of a lengthy consultation process. The committee listened to stories and experiences from members of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities. At the end of the hearing they issued a report called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. Action item number 80, one of 94 recommendations, calls for a statutory holiday.
80. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, 2012; cc 2015