Orange Shirt Day derives from the story of residential school survivor, Phyllis Webstad, from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. At the young age of 6, Phyllis was forced by the Canadian government to attend residential school. For her first day, she was excited to wear her bright, orange shirt but after arriving, it was immediately stripped and taken away from her. Phyllis shared, “The color 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. All of us little children were crying, and no one cared.”
The disturbing effects of residential school still linger to this day as intergenerational trauma embeds itself into Indigenous lives. This core foundation is established from the genocide of language, culture, traditions, parenting systems and spiritual practices. Dealing with trauma, mental illness, substance abuse and high suicide rates overwhelm Indigenous communities. Overrepresentation ensues within the child welfare system and criminal justice system. Poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and chronic health issues are also a few other issues that only touch the surface of this matter. It is important now more than ever for Settler Canadians to stand in solidarity and amplify the voices of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.
On September 30th, we call for humanity to center and uphold survivors, their families and to think of the young lives who did not make it home. Intentions should be brought toward learning, holding space, and creating global dialogue on residential school’s horrific consequences and the resurgence of Indigenous peoples. Even as an adult, the innocent child still lives within every one of us. Orange shirt day is for these warriors to be honoured and heard. Every Child Matters.
– Deena Watson
VIDEA Indigenous Governance Officer