This week’s writer is Miriam Sainnawap, co-coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours Program.
The fourth annual Orange Shirt Day is taking place on September 30th — a day to commemorate the experiences of residential school survivors and their families. Wearing an orange shirt when we gather is way to raise awareness of the legacy of the Indian Residential School System and build solidarity with the survivors.
Phyllis Webstad is a former survivor at St Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school and one of the leading founders of the Orange Shirt Day. The day is an outcome of her own story. When she was a young child, her grandmother bought her a shiny new orange shirt for school. The shirt was taken away on her first day of school at St. Joseph Mission. The first Orange Shirt Day was held in Williams Lake, BC in 2013. Phyllis’s story is a shared history for every survivor and their families: of something taken away, contributing to loss of language, culture and the sense of identity of who one is and where one belongs.
The intergenerational legacy of residential schools has left an imprint on families of every generation where many of us; including me, are on the journey of restoring our collective ties and knowledges within our respective Nations. We exemplify our resilience and strength, we are gracious people.
Every September 30th, I’m committed to wearing a orange shirt in honour of my family and friends, my community and all the survivors and intergenerational survivors, because they matter to me. As the slogan printed on my shirt says, “Every child matters.” Indeed, every child does matter.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 Calls to Action, encouraging all Canadians to come to terms with the dark history of Canada’s residential schools system when children were taken away from their families. It is about dealing with the uncomfortable truths.
Canada is at a beginning point of the right relationship with Indigenous peoples. Honestly, we still have a long way to go and we’re not fully engaged enough to moving forward. The key is to have courage. We need each other, and we create momentum when we come together. in a spirit of mutual respect, responsibility and partnership.