Wear an Orange Shirt on September 30

Third Way Wider ViewSeptember 22, 2017

MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours program

Wear an Orange Shirt on September 30

By Miriam Sainnawap

\Miriam is Co-coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours program. She is from Oji-Cree, from Kingfisher First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

The fifth annual Orange Shirt Day takes place across Canada on September 30, 2017 — a day to commemorate the experiences of residential school survivors and their families. Wearing an orange shirt when we gather is way to raise awareness of the legacy of the Indian Residential School System and build solidarity with the survivors.

The Indian Residential School System was established by the federal government of Canada and administered by church denominations from the 1880s and until the closing of the last school in 1996. The system forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families and communities and forbade them from speaking their languages or honouring their heritage. All children were subject to emotional and spiritual abuse; many were also abused physically and sexually. An unknown number died.

Phyllis Webstad is a former survivor at St Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school and one of the leading founders of the Orange Shirt Day. The day is an outcome of her own story. When she was a young child, her grandmother bought her a shiny new orange shirt for school. The shirt was taken away on her first day of school at St. Joseph Mission.

MCC staff in Winnipeg post for a photo on Orange Shirt Day, September 30, 2016. Photo credit Alison Ralph. Third Way apologizes for those cut off from this photo by the sizing on the website.

The first Orange Shirt Day was held in Williams Lake, BC in 2013. Phyllis’s story is a shared history for every survivor and their families: of something taken away, contributing to loss of language, culture and the sense of identity of who one is and where one belongs.

The intergenerational legacy of residential schools has left an imprint on families of every generation where many of us, including me, are on the journey of restoring our collective ties and knowledges within our respective Nations. We exemplify our resilience and strength, we are gracious people.

Every September 30, I’m committed to wearing a orange shirt in honour of my family and friends, my community and all the survivors and intergenerational survivors, because they matter to me. As the slogan printed on my shirt says, “Every child matters.” Indeed, every child does matter.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran from 2010 to 2015, providing a context for survivors of the residential schools to tell their stories. The TRC issued 94 Calls to Action, encouraging all Canadians to come to terms with the dark history of Canada’s residential schools system when children were taken away from their families. It calls for dealing with the uncomfortable truths of our collective history.

Canada is at a beginning point of the right relationship with Indigenous peoples. Honestly, we still have a long way to go and we’re not fully engaged enough to move forward. The key is to have courage. We need each other, and we create momentum when we come together in a spirit of mutual respect, responsibility and partnership.