September 25, 2023: On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation we wear orange! Listen, witness and honour Phyllis Webstad’s Orange Shirt Story.

Two years ago the Canadian federal government passed legislation to mark September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This National commemoration is designated as an opportunity to honour residential school survivors, their families, and communities, as well as acknowledging that the history and legacy of residential schools remain a vital component of the reconciliation process. This week in the mentoring circle, we encourage all members of the UBC community to honour the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, whether through personal reflection, education and awareness activities or by participating in Orange Shirt Day!

For the last decade, September 30 has been observed as Orange Shirt Day, a movement to recognize the colonial legacy of residential schools and commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. This weekend, join us and hundreds of others across Canada to honour the children who survived the Indian Residential Schools and remember those who didn’t, by wearing an orange shirt. The Orange Shirt Day project has worked towards the recognition of the harm of the residential school system. It is a symbol to show reverence to residential school survivors, an affirmation of our commitment to ensure that every child around us matters. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for people, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of Indigenous children to come.

Why Orange Shirts?

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013. It recalls the experience of residential school Survivor Phyllis Webstad, who at six was stripped of her shiny new orange shirt on her first day attending the St. Joseph Mission Residential School. Phyllis Webstad told this story for the first time during the event as an opportunity to remember the atrocious aspects of residential school in the Cariboo. As a result, Cariboo Chilcotin School District No. 27 was chosen by the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) to pilot curriculum changes reflecting the residential school experience. Every September 30th is a call upon humanity to listen with open hearts to the stories of survivors and their families and to remember the tragic loss of many others — listen to Phyllis’  story below.

Who is Phyllis Webstad?

Phyllis Webstad is Northern Secwepemc from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She comes from mixed Secwepemc and Irish/French heritage, she was born in Dog Creek and lives in Williams Lake, BC. Today, Phyllis is married and has one son, a stepson and five grandchildren.  She is the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society, and tours the country telling her story and raising awareness about the impacts of the residential school system. She has now published two books, the “Orange Shirt Story” and “Phyllis’s  Orange Shirt” for younger children.

Why September 30th?

The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It also gives teachers time to plan events that will include the true history of Canada and ensure that schools are teaching the Orange Shirt story on to the next generations. The organization Orange Shirt Day has created digital resources and supplies to assist with understanding & planning of Orange Shirt Day, it also created digital teacher resources that can be embedded in daily lesson plans. This year, Xwi7xwa Library is hosting its own StoryWalk® for Orange Shirt Day on Saturday, September 30th featuring Phyllis Webstad’s picture book With Our Orange Hearts. Visit Xwi7xwa’s StoryWalk® in the arboretum, the grassy knoll between the library and the First Nations Longhouse.

Learn more stories…

A beautiful exhibit that tells the story of another residential school survivor is Bea Silver Lexeywa Art Activism. The students of Robert Bateman’s Art Activism initiative at The University of the Fraser Valley invite us to witness their work which visually narrates the life story of Bea Silver; a prominent Elder, educator, leader and residential school survivor. Lex̱éywa – “Torch” calls us to consider the history and impact of residential schools on a national level, as well as on a local scale, as viewers move through a circular exhibition. 20 large-scale paintings paired with audio recordings relay her story chronologically, uncovering an individual experience that speaks to the lasting impact of residential schools, as well as universal truths, struggles and ultimately, the resilience of one exceptionally strong survivor of this history we all share.​  Witness the video below to learn more about the story of Bea Silver.

What can you do?

Every Child Matters! Orange Shirt Day is a day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those who have been affected. The annual remembrance on September 30th opens the door to a global conversation on all aspects of residential schools. The event was designed not only to commemorate the residential school experience, but also to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. The Teacher Education Office invites students to take part in a small act of giving in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day. This Tuesday and Wednesday, you are invited to drop by the Scarfe foyer to make an “Every Child Matters” orange shirt button. Pre-made buttons will also be available for donation. (The act of making a button for others to keep is also seen as a way of giving.) Resources on the residential school system and reconciliation from the Legacy of Hope Foundation will be available to view as well.

Join the Scarfe foyer for Acts of Giving & Learning for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day:

  • Tuesdays (September 26): 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Wednesdays (September 27): 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Enter a draw to win a book written by an Indigenous-Canadian author — there will be multiple prizes. Stop by the TEO table to fill out an entry form. (Open to current UBC BEd TCs only). Teacher candidates are also invited to write down their thoughts on how to take action on an orange paper heart, which will be provided at the table. The hearts will be collected and displayed in the foyer after.

To find a wide range of Orange Shirt Day programming and information, please explore the hub page curated by the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. There you can access information about events, educational resources, and wellness support initiatives available at UBC Vancouver. Each year, the Centre works with an Indigenous artist to create a unique Orange Shirt Day t-shirt design. This year’s shirts feature the work of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) artist təlnaq̕ə (Alec Guerin). Wearing an orange shirt and promoting the slogan, Every Child Matters is an affirmation of the commitment to raise awareness of the residential school experience and to reflect on our hope for a better future in which all children are empowered. In the following video, hear Alec speak about his art practice, creative influences, and the significance of the 2023 design.

The orange shirt taken from one child, is a symbol of the many losses experienced by thousands of students, and their families and communities, over several generations including loss of family, language, culture, freedom, parenting, self-esteem and worth. It reminds us of the painful experiences of abuse and neglect children suffered. Wearing orange shirts is a symbol of defiance against those things that undermine children’s self-esteem. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the impact of colonialism and the impacts it created. A discussion everyone needs to tune into to create bridges towards truth and reconciliation. Post pictures of your orange shirt, the event or activity you attended, share your story, or simply enjoy others sharing theirs. On September 30th we wear orange!