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Orange Shirt Day honours Indigenous peoples affected by residential schools

Although Orange Shirt Day was started in response to crimes against Canada’s Indigenous peoples, those participating understand that acknowledging the past is important to grow as a community. 

Orange Shirt Day derives from the experiences of Phylis Webstad, who in 1973 at the age of six, was relocated to a residential school, where she was stripped of her clothes, including an orange shirt.

SAIT faculty, teachers and students stand in Heritage Hall for Orange Shirt Day.
Monday, October 1, 2018, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Rorie Stannard

The shirt was more than a stolen possession to Webstad; it represented how she and others were treated as if they were nothing, and how the impact of that treatment lasted for years.

“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,” said Webstad in a personal account published online.

Orange Shirt Day was started in 2013 by the non-profit organization “The Orange Shirt Society”. Their slogan, “Every Child Matters”, speaks to the true purpose of Orange Shirt Day: advocating for the safety of all children. 

Larry Gauthier, a coordinator for Chinook Lodge at SAIT, said Orange Shirt Day is important for Canada as a community because although Canadians always look to the developing world for issues of abuse, they are right in our backyard. 

“We have to protect our children, and Orange Shirt Day is about not only the abuse of Indigenous children, but of all children who have suffered,” said Gauthier.

Students participate in Orange Shirt Day because they want to bring awareness to the initiative and what it is about, said Chinook Lodge student advisor Tapaarjuk Moore.

Left to Right:
Jerard Po, Donalyn Lazara and Deanna Balla show their support in Heritage Hall.
Monday, October 1, 2018, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Rorie Stannard

“They say every child matters, and they’re just trying to bring awareness to the history of residential schools in Canada and working towards growing and healing together as part of reconciliation.”

Orange Shirt Day helps ensure we remember and revisit the mistakes of the past, to make sure they do not happen again, said SAIT instructor Andrey Imanoff. 

“We want to make sure these lessons stay alive, and that we are aware of how events like residential schools impact the community and how it impacts next generations.

“We’ve been educated about it, but what about the next generation?

“What about our kids and grandkids?”

For some, it is important to remember the tragedy, and honour those affected by it so we learn from history.

“It’s good to remember Canada’s history and to wear an orange shirt to honour victims and survivors of residential schools,” said Danielle Coutu, a student in the medical office assistant program.

Remembering the horrors of the past can help ensure a better tomorrow for all Canadians, according to Amy Dowd, a SAIT communications specialist.

“It’s important to recognize the impacts that these [events] had on current events in our lives now, and make sure we can move forward in a better way.

“We need to make sure that every child matters.”

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