Orange Shirt Day

What is Orange Shirt Day?

Orange Shirt Day was started in 2013 and is celebrated each year on September 30. Everyone is encouraged to wear orange shirts to remember and honor the children that were taken from their homes and placed into residential schools in Canada. #EveryChildMatters

The annual Orange Shirt Day on September 30th opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of Residential Schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussions about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind.  A discussion all Canadians can tune into and create bridges with each other for reconciliation.  A day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those that have been affected.  Every Child Matters, even if they are an adult, from now on. 

The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.

Wearing an orange shirt and promoting the slogan, Every Child Matters, is an affirmation of our commitment to raise awareness of the residential school experience and to ensure that every child matters as we focus on our hope for a better future in which children are empowered to help each other.

Residential schools were church-run schools where approximately 150,000 Métis, Inuit and First Nations children were sent between the 1860s and the 1990s. The schools harmed Indigenous children by removing them from their families, forcing them to speak English or French instead of their ancestral languages, disconnecting them from their culture and traditions and forcing them to adopt Christianity in order to assimilate into Canadian society. The government has since acknowledged that this approach was wrong, cruel and ineffective, and offered an official apology to the Indigenous people of Canada in 2008.

Phyllis Webstad's Story

Phyllis Webstad, who attended a residential school in British Columbia in the 1970s,

started Orange Shirt Day in 2013. Phyllis was initially excited to go to school and went shopping

with her granny to pick out a new outfit for school; she chose a shiny orange shirt. That shirt

was taken away from her when she arrived at residential school and was never returned to her.

On September 30th Canadians wear an orange shirt to demonstrate the commitment to

reconciliation and opening and continuing the dialogue about residential schooling.

Phyllis's Story

Facts About Residential Schools

  1. Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes by RCMP. 
  2. ~150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families.
  3. 90 to 100% suffered severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. 
  4. There was a 40 – 60% mortality rate in Indian residential schools. 
  5. Residential schools date back to the 1870s. 
  6. Over 130 residential schools were located across Canada, and the last school closed as recently as 1996.

We Were Children - Documentary film

In this feature film, the profound impact of the Canadian government’s residential school system is conveyed through the eyes of two children who were forced to face hardships beyond their years. As young children, Lyna and Glen were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools, where they suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the effects of which persist in their adult lives. We Were Children gives voice to a national tragedy and demonstrates the incredible resilience of the human spirit.

A Knock on the Door - Book

A Knock on the Door, published in collaboration with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), gathers material from the TRC reports to present the essential history and legacy of residential schools and inform the journey to reconciliation that Canadians are now embarked upon. An afterword introduces the holdings and opportunities of the NCTR, home to the archive of recordings and documents collected by the TRC.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

What is the TRC?

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience.

This includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis former Indian Residential School students, their families, communities, the Churches, former school employees, Government and other Canadians.

The Commission has a five-year mandate and is supported by a TRC Secretariat, which is a federal government department.

What does the TRC hope to achieve?

The TRC hopes to guide and inspire Aboriginal peoples and Canadians in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.


What will the TRC do?

The TRC will prepare a comprehensive historical record on the policies and operations of the schools and produce a report that will include recommendations to the Government of Canada concerning the IRS system and its legacy.

The Commission will host seven national events in different regions across Canada to promote awareness and public education about the IRS system and its impacts.

A national research centre will be established by the end of the TRC mandate that will be a permanent resource for all Canadians.

The TRC will support community events designed by individual communities to meet their unique needs.

The TRC will support a Commemoration Initiative that will provide funding for activities that honour and pay tribute in a permanent and lasting manner to former Indian Residential Schools students.

Note From Mercedes Redman

Even though there are films and books made, the TRC is in place, and we have Orange Shirt Day, it’s important to take a step back and really think about what the effects of the Indian Residential Schools are. 

I am a Dakota woman from Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation. I have never attended residential school but I have grown up dealing with the consequences that these government-funded “schools” had on my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. The intergenerational trauma does not disappear in one generation. 

When I visit with my family on the reserve, I see how each of my relatives is differently affected by our familial trauma. Some grandmas are not physical, they do not hug or kiss their grandchildren. Some cousins don’t cry or allow themselves to process and deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Some uncles turn to substance abuse for comfort or a distraction. 

But in each home I step into, I see the intergenerational strength. Our ancestors fought for our land, cultures, and languages. Our grandparents fought through residential schools. We are fighting to heal our internal traumas so that our children can live a life that they do not have to heal from. 

Reconciliation is a hard, ongoing process. I believe that every Canadian should be educated about the true history of Canada and Indigenous people. Wearing an orange shirt does help raise awareness and show support, but please make sure to educate yourself and continue to be an ally every day of the year, not just on September 30.