History of Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day was created to honor the legacy of the Inuit and Metis children in Canada, who were forcefully taken from their parents and sent off to residential schools between the 1830s and the 1980s. The day is celebrated to acknowledge the healing that is still taking place in the lives of those affected.
Residential schools were a network of boarding- and day schools funded by the government of Canada. The ultimate goal of the schools was to isolate the children from their indigenous cultures and, in doing so, went as far as preventing them from speaking their ancestral languages. Schools were built at significant distances from indigenous communities to reduce parental visits. In total, about 150,000 children were sent to residential schools. Students were subjected to overcrowding, malnourishment, poor medical care, as well as physical and sexual abuse.
The creation of Orange Shirt Day is tied to the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project reunion event held in 2013 when Phylis Westbad shared her experience with the world. Just before leaving her family for residential school at the age of six, Phylis was given an orange shirt by her grandmother. However, when she arrived at the school, the shirt was seized and she never saw it again. From then on, the orange shirt symbolizes the systematic stripping away of local cultures and the unfortunate experiences the children had to face.
The motto of the day is “Every Child Matters” — even if they’re adults now. It is a reminder that irrespective of culture, race, and religion, every child deserves equal opportunities and fair treatment.