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Do you know about Orange Shirt Day? A day to remember and reconcile.

You may notice people wearing orange shirts in the next few days.

They are honoring our indigenous communities.

In 1973, agents of the Canadian government forced Phyllis Webstad, a member of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation to go the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia. She was 6 years old. The school took her cherished orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, that was never returned.

This event symbolizes the broader loss of identity and culture Indigenous children experienced at the hands of the residential school system. Agents of the U.S. and Canadian governments removed children from their families and barred them from speaking their languages and practicing cultural traditions. Many children never returned home.

The last residential school, Kivalliq Hall in Rankin Inlet, closed in 1997. Loss of family members continue to affect Indigenous communities today. We see lasting effects through intergenerational trauma, substance abuse, and mental health challenges.

A solemn occasion to commit to reconciliation and healing.

Orange Shirt Day supports Indigenous communities. In 2021, the federal government passed legislation recognizing Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is day of remembrance for both Canada and the U.S.

On Orange Shirt Day, we reflect and honor the experiences of Indigenous children who were stolen from their families and forced into residential schools. Many children were murdered. Their remains are still being found today. Some are still missing.

Show your support for survivors and their families.

Commit to understanding, empathy, and reconciliation. Wear an orange shirt to spread messages of hope and acceptance for all people. In addition to wearing an orange shirt, you can:

  • Educate yourself. Learn the history of residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and calls to action that provide a roadmap for reconciliation.
  • Start conversations. Talk with friends, family members, and colleagues about the significance of Orange Shirt Day and reconciliation.
  • Support Indigenous communities. Seek Indigenous-owned businesses and organizations and donate to their cause.
  • Participate in events. Attend local Orange Shirt Day events to hear stories from survivors, Elders, and Indigenous leaders.
  • Advocate for change. Advocate for policies and actions that promote reconciliation, equitable education, and improved living conditions for Indigenous communities.

Orange Shirt Day reminds us that reconciliation is ongoing.

As we honor this day and actively participate in reconciliation efforts, we can collectively create a more equitable and inclusive future for all.

About the author

Len is a member of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Upper Nicola Band of Okanagan Indians.