It’s not often I re-post a story, but in addition to explaining the background of what September 30th – “Orange Shirt Day” means to me and my family, I wanted to add the story of the person who was behind the creation of this campaign.
Orange Shirt Day, is an Every Child Matters awareness campaign created to honor, and in respect of, all the children taken from Indigenous families and forced to attend Residential Schools in Canada and the U.S. between 1879 and 1996. These schools were created to complete the attempt to eradicate ‘the Indian’ out of the children, the intent to fully rid the continent of its Indigenous Peoples.
In my family, we had five children enter a Residential School in Northern Alberta -Grouard. Three of them never came home. I don’t know what my great-grandmother was ever told of the details of their deaths, it was never anything ever talked about and that was standard behavior for nearly all families. Very little to nothing around those schools was ever discussed.
What I do know is, the consequences of all the trauma between that and the ensuing efforts to move my family into more convenient locations for government plans took its toll on my family. They call it ‘inter-generational trauma’ now. All the brokenness that came out of those years and all the efforts to recover from them included too many years of addiction issues, homelessness, and the continuing loss of children to the foster care system. I was one of those children.
I didn’t become addicted to a substance, but I did have just as many needs for recovery from the traumas of abuses, of neglect, of years of fear. Even today, while most would say I seem to have it all together, there are those much closer to me who know my fight to stay on top of old demons is a job that needs review every so often.
I’m only one of so many and I would want them to know, that there are places now that help. That understand us and who speak our languages – not our Nation’s language, but how we see things. I found mine with the Indian Residential Survivor’s Society (http://irsss.ca/). Contact them, if you need help or you want to help someone. They know, and they understand.
The story I want to pass on is the origin of this Orange Shirt Day, a HuffPost piece by Zi-Ann Lum on Phyllis Webstad.
Phyllis Webstad was six-years-old when the new orange shirt she excitedly chose for her first day of school was stripped off her back. She never saw it again.
She was a kid. She didn’t know that merely being born an indigenous child surrendered her to an education system designed to break down her identity.
A childhood photo of Phyllis Webstad.
“The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” she said in a statement. “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
From the 1880s until the last school shut down in 1996, Canada’s residential school system forced about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children to attend church-run facilities that aimed to “take the Indian out of the child.”
The students faced widespread neglect and abuse in the schools, which was examined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that released a report with 94 recommendations earlier this year.
It took Webstad 40 years to find a way to re-frame her experience to fight racism and bullying under the motto “every child matters” — and by using orange.
Orange Shirt Day began on Sept. 30, 2013. (Photo: Facebook)
On Sept. 30, 2013, Webstad organized the first Orange Shirt Day in Williams Lake to acknowledge the harm that Canada’s residential school system has left in generations of indigenous families and their communities.
And every year on Sept. 30, Canadians are asked to wear orange as a sign of support.
The event is spreading across schools in Canada. (Photo: Orange Shirt Day/Facebook)
“When I was in school, I didn’t know my own history,” Webstad explained in a video.
She said she is now “overjoyed” by the growing number of people participating in the event each year, from schools to reserves to businesses.