The Importance of Orange Shirt Day

On September 30th, Orange Shirt day turns 6 years old. It was designed in in 2013 to educate people about Residential schools, and was a result of Phyllis Jack Webstad describing her experience at one of these schools.

New clothes are more then just a privilege for a six year old Indigenous girl living with her grandmother, and one day Phyllis woke and put on her brand new orange shirt happily, left for school, and she was taken. Her shirt, her pride and joy, was torn off her back. This was only a segue into the abuse that she and 150 000 Indigenous children suffered through.

Although Residential schools are a significant part of Canadian history, many students are not aware of the significance of Orange Shirt day. It is more then a day to recognize Phyllis’ Struggle, it is a day to recognize the countries struggle. A struggle which has yet to end.

Orange Shirt day raises awareness of our national shame, and it reminds us that to this day there is no rest for the Indigenous people of Canada. According to a 2007 study by the province of Saskatchewan – the only province to have systematically reviewed its missing persons files for cases involving Indigenous women – Indigenous women were found to have made up 6% of the province’s population, and 60% of the province’s missing women cases. If that doesn’t spell out genocide I don’t know what does.

“I finally get it,” said Webstad, “that feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further then the truth, I still sometimes feel like I don’t matter.”

The genocide of natives has been going on for 300 years and has yet to stop, and the public won’t even admit that it’s genocide. How are the Indigenous supposed to recover and break bread with the ancestors of colonists when they still don’t care? 6000 children died in Residential schools, and thousands are still disappearing. The race is dying, and it’s time to start caring. Orange Shirt day is a very important first step of the long journey towards reconciliation.

Phyllis Jack Webstad (center)