Phyllis Webstad, a member of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation in British Columbia, was forced to attend St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, as her relatives before her. She entered the school in 1973 wearing a brand new orange shirt which was immediately confiscated by the staff and replaced with a uniform. She never saw the shirt again, and began to associate the colour with the traumatic experiences in the school and the loss of language and cultural identity she suffered.
In 2013, Webstad transformed her negative experiences into something positive by creating a Nationally recognized Orange Shirt Day. Celebrated annually on September 30th, this day acknowledges the residential school system in Canada, honours those who survived, and remembers those who did not. It is a day to demonstrate, by wearing orange, that all students matter.
Orange Shirt Day has been marked in schools across Canada in a variety of ways, including Orange Ribbon campaigns, commemorative walks, and wearing orange shirts. Over 6,500 survivor statements have been collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which concluded in 2016 after six years of research and testimonies. Senator Murray Sinclair has stated that “reconciliation must fall in the hands of Canadians, not solely with Indigenous peoples.” Ultimately, wearing orange shirts on 30 September is a visual reminder of our shared past as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and provides an opportunity for dialogue between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in shaping our shared future.