Do you have an orange shirt?

Today is Orange Shirt Day, a day to commemorate all the Indian children who were ripped from their families and pushed into boarding schools.

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013. This project was the vision of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, who is a former student himself. It brought together former students and their families from the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’imc Nations along with the Cariboo Regional District, the Mayors and municipalities, School Districts and civic organizations in the Cariboo Region.

The events were designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. Chief Justice Murray Sinclair challenged all of the participants to keep the reconciliation process alive, as a result of the realization that every former student had similar stories.

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of this project. As spokesperson for the Reunion group leading up to the events, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of her first day at residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year old girl.

My university was founded on the campus of one of those Indian boarding schools, and there are multiple monuments reminding us of that fact, our local version of “Never forget”, so of course I’m participating.

Is that orange enough? I should have mentioned this last week, because I looked through my wardrobe, and orange is not a color strongly represented in my attire. Another thing we did on my trip to St Paul yesterday was pick up something I could wear to class today.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’ve got a couple of orange shirts. I’ll go put one on. Not real effective as a protest since I’m not planning on going out.

  2. says

    I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of this. I used to live in Williams Lake (1977-80, age 9-13), and the racism towards First Nations people was overt and every day. As an ignorant kid, I participated in the racism I was taught at home and in school. This is the one thing that makes me glad I was bullied and beaten into shyness and introversion as a kid: I would have been a far worse person than I was if had been confident and self-assured like I am now.

    About 10-15 years ago, I finally learnt something I never understood as a kid, about the ignorance those in power had towards cultural differences. At school, First Nations kids would never bring gym clothes (shorts and t-shirts) like the other kids. They would always have an excuse (“mom didn’t wash it”, “I forgot to bring it,” etc.). I and other kids ignorantly thought they didn’t care about rules and were goofing off. The teachers constantly berated them every week for not bringing gym clothes, yelling and humiliating them. Abusing them.

    Only decades later as an adult did I learn that changing to their underwear in front of other kids or wearing bare-legged shorts would have been shameful and embarrassing to them. Those kids were yelled at almost daily for years and nobody – the adults, I mean – bothered to ask why they didn’t bring gym clothes. And this was at a public school. I can’t imagine how much worse it was at a “residential school”.

    I don’t own an orange shirt. But I’ll wear an orange bandanna on the way to school tomorrow instead of a hat.

  3. PaulBC says

    Darn. I have one or two from doing the National Kidney Foundation Kidney Walk. I would have worn one to work if I had seen it on time. It is really bright orange.

  4. wsierichs says

    Read online the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report about that country’s religion-driven kidnapping and horrific abuse of Indian children in the 19th century and well down into the 20th century. It’s long and detailed, but has summaries of the material. We need something like that in this country, but I doubt it will ever happen because the evil Republicans would never support it and the deeply-corrupt Democratic Party leadership might give it some lip service but otherwise ignore it.