(September 30, 2021) Today, as the country commemorates Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we are reading the 2015 Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. And we invite readers to join us in taking some time today to think about the legacy of residential schools, Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people, the impact of generational trauma, and how we can help create a new dialogue based on truth and reconciliation.
September 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013, and relates to the experience of one of its coordinators Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) woman from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who was six years old when she had her orange shirt taken away from her on the first day of 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.”
It is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.
Today, Phylis is the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society, and tours the country telling her story and raising awareness about the impacts of the residential school system. She has now published two books, the “Orange Shirt Story” and “Phyllis’s Orange Shirt” for younger children.