Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family, and community inter-generational impacts of residential schools. On September 30 and throughout Truth and Reconciliation Week (Sept. 26-30), Canadians wear orange to symbolize the stripping away of culture, freedom, and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 at the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event in Williams Lake, B.C., where survivor Phyllis Webstad told the story of her shiny new orange shirt being taken away from her on her first day of school at the Mission.
Since then, the event has been held annually in the early fall, which is the time of year when children were removed from their families and forced to attend residential schools. The day inspires Canadians to take part in anti-racism and anti-bullying initiatives at school and work.
The residential school era began in the early 1870’s, with the last school closing in 1996. More than 150,000 Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit children attended these schools and there are an estimated 80,000 survivors living today. The inter-generational trauma created by these schools impacted thousands more people.