Started in 2013, Orange Shirt Day helps increase awareness of the effects of Residential Schools on Indigenous Communities in Canada. The name comes from the story of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. On her first day of residential school at 6 years old, she had her orange shirt taken from her, a gift from her grandmother. This shirt was a symbol for a much bigger system at play. Indigenous children were taken from their families and were stripped of the culture that was theirs.
Orange Shirt Day helps to continue the conversation and efforts around reconciliation. Those who have suffered tell their stories and continue to heal. For the rest of us it’s about supporting our Indigenous brothers and sisters that have been affected and to remind ourselves that Every Child Matters.
In 2017, Member of Parliament, Georgina Jolibois submitted private member’s bill C-361 calling for a national holiday. The bill passed through the House of Commons on March 21, 2019 but never made it through the Senate before the next election was called.
On September 29, 2020, Canada’s Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault tabled bill C-5 proposing that Orange Shirt Day become a national statutory holiday, similar to the previous bill by Georgina Jolibois. The new holiday would be officially named the “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation”. On May 28, 2021, the day after 215 children’s bodies were discovered in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, all parties in the House of Commons agreed to fast-track the bill and it passed in the House of Commons by unanimous consent. The bill passed the Senate unanimously six days later and received royal assent on June 3, 2021.
This September 30th, we ask that you take some time to learn about the history of residential schools and work towards ensuring something like this never happens again. A great place to start is reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action. We also encourage you to take action by sending a letter to the Prime Minister and asking him to make reconciliation an urgent priority for the new government. Finally, we ask that you wear an orange shirt to show solidary with our Indigenous communities.
To learn more about the history of Orange Shirt Day or how you can take further action towards reconciliation, please review the statement from the Canadian Labour Congress which includes a variety of links and resources.
Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and Selina Robinson, Minister of Finance, have released the following statement on marking the federal Truth and Reconciliation Day:
“Over the last two months Canadians have been coming to terms with what survivors of residential schools have always known. Indigenous peoples are bringing to light the true history of this country and the atrocities of the residential school system.
“We share the grief, the pain and the outrage and understand that we have a painful but necessary road ahead of us to walk together, to right wrongs and to support Indigenous communities who are carrying this ongoing burden with strength, resilience and leadership. The need has never been greater to listen and to learn about B.C.’s colonial history and to seek truth, justice and reconciliation. As government, we have an important role in this process, and we know that non-Indigenous British Columbians throughout the province want to play an active part in this critical work.
“In June, the federal government announced Sept. 30 as a new annual statutory day to commemorate the history and ongoing trauma caused by residential schools and to honour those who were lost and the survivors, families and communities who continue to grieve.
“In recent years, Sept. 30 has been known as Orange Shirt Day, so called because of the residential school experiences of the campaign’s founder, Phyllis Webstad. It is a day when we honour the children who suffered in the residential school system, and many residential school survivors and supporters have advocated for this to become a national day of commemoration, to respond to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
“Over the coming months, the Province will work with Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities on the best and most respectful ways to mark Truth and Reconciliation Day here in B.C., followed by engagement with business and labour stakeholders for their perspectives on how the national day is commemorated in future years.
“The national holiday will be observed this Sept. 30 by federal employees and workers in federally regulated workplaces. We have advised provincial public-sector employers to honour this day and in recognition of the obligations in the vast majority of collective agreements. Many public services will remain open but may be operating at reduced levels. However, most schools, post-secondary institutions, some health sector workplaces, and Crown corporations will be closed.
“Our government is calling on all of us who deliver services to the public to use this opportunity to consider what each of us can do as individuals to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and to recommit to understanding the truth of our shared history, to accept and learn from it and in doing so, help to create a better, more inclusive British Columbia.”
BC Fed Statement on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
(Unceded Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam territories — Vancouver, BC) September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is a day for all of us to recognize the legacy of colonialism and genocide, and how the practices that reinforce and amplify them continue today.
The discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Territory, and subsequent discovery of hundreds more at the former locations of many others, lend that legacy an especially painful weight this year. The grief and pain of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people everywhere are enormous. We share that grief and will not forget these children or the experiences of all Indigenous survivors and non-survivors of residential schools.
For years now we have known September 30 as Orange Shirt Day, named for the story shared by Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, whose brand-new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was stripped from her on her first day at residential school when she was six years old. Now we move forward together with a day recognized nationally as a statutory holiday. And while the BC government is still discussing the best way to mark this day provincially in the future, the BC Federation of Labour has chosen to close our offices on September 30 in observance.
We will take this day to reflect on the damage done by colonialism and genocide: through the residential school system, through measures ranging from land theft to the suppression of languages and cultures, and through the many ways colonialism continues today. We will consider what it means to live and work in a colonial province and country. We will look at how labour in British Columbia and beyond can play a more effective role in dismantling those structures of oppression and serve as better allies to Indigenous peoples. And we will recommit to the work of decolonization, within our own walls and in the broader community.
The BC Federation of Labour encourages workers everywhere to join us in this day of reflection and acknowledgement, and we have compiled a list of events and actions happening around the province.
We recognize the path of reconciliation and healing will be long, but all of us — Indigenous and settler communities alike — will be stronger and better for it.
Canada’s unions call on new federal government to prioritize reconciliation ahead of first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Canada’s unions are marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by strengthening our resolve to fighting for Indigenous rights and justice.
“We are committed to working toward reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and we stand in solidarity with them,” said Bea Bruske, CLC President. “We call on the new federal government to recommit to reconciliation and to make it a priority as they plan their new mandate.”
September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, recognized by the Federal and some provincial and territorial governments as a new statutory holiday. This day has also historically been recognized and commemorated across the country as Orange Shirt Day, a day to remember and honour all the Indigenous children taken from their families and communities and sent to residential schools, where they experienced abuse, racism, violence, and mistreatment.
Canada’s residential school system is estimated to have violently uprooted and impacted the lives of at least 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, and its multi-generational impacts are still deeply felt across Indigenous communities to this day.
“The residential school system is a significant part of Canada’s heinous history of colonial violence enacted upon Indigenous communities. Its legacy continues with the ongoing marginalization and traumatization of Indigenous peoples and communities, and the creation of widespread socioeconomic and health inequities that have rippled across generations,” said Bruske.
“A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is important in recognizing and facing the historical and present-day harm inflicted upon Indigenous people and communities, and reminds us all of our individual and collective responsibility in working toward reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We all have a role to play when it comes to fighting to dismantle the systems that continue to perpetuate these longstanding injustices,” said Lily Chang, CLC Secretary-Treasurer.
For Canada’s unions, this means continuing to support Indigenous workers and communities and pushing all levels of government to make concrete commitments and take action on reconciliation by:
• Implementing all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice, beginning with implementation of the TRC calls to action 71 through 76 on the Missing Children and Burial Information, which include searching all residential school burial sites in Canada and providing sufficient funding to the National Residential School Student Death Register;
• Urging all provincial and territorial governments to recognize September 30 as a statutory holiday to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation;
• Dropping government court battles against residential school survivors;
• Ending discrimination against First Nations children in the delivery of child welfare services on reserves Implementing by reforming the First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) program in compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling.
“We’re encouraging all workers to take time on September 30 to learn more about the report and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to reflect on what reconciliation means, and to take the first steps on this journey toward justice by pushing for change,” said Bruske.
Send a letter to the Prime Minister to push for real commitments and meaningful action toward reconciliation and justice for Indigenous people and communities.
Other actions you can take:
• Learn more about Orange Shirt Day and wear orange to show your support for Indigenous communities impacted by residential schools;