Orange Shirt Day sweeps across Indian Country

Six Nations supporters, families and descendants wore orange shirts in solidarity with many others across Turtle Island over this past weekend to bring awareness to the losses experienced by the children in residential schools in accordance to Orange Shirt Day.

Orange Shirt Day is a day that has become a national effort for indigenous communities and is hoped to soon be placed as a national holiday.

The day was originally inspired by the story of Phyllis Webstad, from Dog Creek, B.C., who is a survivor of the residential school system.

“I went to the Mission for one year. I had just turned 6 years old. We never had very much money, and there was no welfare, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission School in. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had eyelets and lace, and I felt so pretty in that shirt and excited to be going to school! Of course, when I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt. I never saw it again, except on other kids. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! Since then 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. I finally get it, that the 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…I want my orange shirt back!” wrote Webstad in a statement on the Orange Shirt Day website.

Symbolically, the orange shirt taken from Webstad in her youth is now used to represent the losses experienced by the thousands of children that were and continue to be impacted by the effects of residential schools. Wearing an orange shirt on September 30 is taken as an act of defiance against the things that undermine a child’s self-esteem, and also prompts the anti-bullying and anti-racism commitment made by the initiative.

The day has gone from small gatherings in indigenous communities while wearing orange shirts to large celebrations of reconciliation and hope with orange shirts bearing the slogan “Every Child Matters.”

The large annual Survivors Gathering was hosted at the Woodland Cultural Centre over this past weekend. The gathering incorporated the use of healing workshops, presentations, tours and more to help educate and heal those in attendance.

1. Staff from the Six Nations Elected Council posed in their orange shirts on Friday, September 28. Photo courtesy of the SNEC Facebook Page.

2. Staff from the White Pines Wellness Centre posed together in their orange shirts. Photo courtesy of the SNEC Facebook Page.

3. Residential school survivors posed during the Survivors Gathering hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre. Photo courtesy of the SNEC Facebook Page.

4. Indspire staff posed in their orange shirts. Photo courtesy of Skylar General.

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