Every Child Matters: The Meaning Behind the Orange Shirt

September 30th is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Also known as Orange Shirt Day, this date commemorates the expanse of time of the 1860s to the 1990s. It was during this period that close to 150,000 Inuit, Metis, and First Nations children were taken from their parents and sent to residential schools.

The history of the orange shirt

The children endured a tremendous amount of grief upon being forcibly removed from their homes, coerced into speaking English and French, and isolated from their cultural traditions and way of life.

Among these children was a young girl by the name of Phyllis Webstad. Upon her first day of residential school, she sported a shiny orange shirt -- bought by her grandmother. She was stripped of her shirt and forced into the cold and unwelcoming environment of the residential school. Here, she was made to feel devalued and inferior in every way; she was cut off from loved ones, separated from her ancestral language and traditions, and pressed to embrace Christianity to become integrated into Canadian society. Years later, this experience would become the catalyst that led Webstad to start Orange Shirt Day.

The significance of the orange shirt today

Exemplified with the wearing of the orange shirt, this day honours and remembers the Indigenous children who were taken from their homes. It pays tribute to the 150,000 kids who were taken and 5,000 who didn’t make it back. Additionally, [the orange shirt] represents a journey of restoration and recovery from that dark period. It’s a symbol of healing to those who live on and a dedication to the conviction that every child matters.

For the survivors and their families of the residential schools, the pain still lingers and it’s difficult to forget. To this day, there are many who are still trying to manage the abuse and trauma associated with that time.

Orange Shirt Day on September 30th is a day to reflect and remember the atrocities that took place, all in an attempt to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. This can be accomplished by listening to the stories of the survivors, hearing their truths, and continuing to move forward in reconciliation.

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