Orange Shirt Day

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Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day (29804509710).jpg
Teachers in a Canadian school wearing orange shirts for Orange Shirt Day
TypeHistorical, memorial
SignificanceNational day of remembrance for the victims of the Canadian Indian residential school system
DateSeptember 30

Orange Shirt Day (French: Jour du chandail orange),[1] also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is a Canadian statutory holiday. Orange Shirt Day was created as an observance in 2013, and is designed to educate people and promote awareness in Canada about the Indian residential school system and the impact it has had on Indigenous communities for over a century—an impact recognized as a cultural genocide, and an impact that continues today.[2] It is held annually on September 30 in Canadian communities, where people are encouraged to wear an orange shirt. It was elevated to a statutory holiday by the Canadian government in 2021.[3] In memory of the remains of over 1,000 Indigenous children found at residential schools, media encouraged Canadians to wear orange shirts for Canada Day 2021.[4]


Indian residential school system[edit]

Shortly after Confederation, the new nation of Canada inherited the treaties signed between the Crown and the First Nations of Canada. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was faced with a country with disparate cultures and identities and wanted to forge a new Canadian identity to unite the country and ensure its survival. It was Macdonald's goal to absorb the First Nations into the general population of Canada and extinguish their culture.[5] In 1878, he commissioned Nicholas Flood Davin to write a report about residential schools in the United States. One year later, Davin reported that only residential schools could separate aboriginal children from their parents and culture and cause them "to be merged and lost" within the nation. Davin argued that the government should work with the Christian churches to open these schools.[6][7][8]

The schools aimed to eliminate Indigenous language and culture and replace it with English language and Christian beliefs. Pictured is Fort Resolution, NWT.

Beginning in 1883, the government began funding Indian residential schools across Canada, which were run primarily by the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church; but also included the United Church of Canada, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church. When the separation of children from their parents was resisted, the government responded by making school attendance compulsory in 1894, and empowered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to seize children from reserves and bring them to the residential schools. When parents came to take their children away from the schools, the pass system was created, banning Indigenous people from leaving their reserve without a "pass" from an Indian agent.[9] Conditions at the schools were rough as schools were underfunded and disease was rampant: chief medical officer Peter Bryce wrote a report on the high mortality rates at the schools in 1906 (as high as 69% at one school, but frequently ranging between 30 and 60 percent); after his forced retirement from the public service, he published the report in 1922, causing a public scandal. Many schools did not communicate the news of the deaths of students to the students' families, burying the children in unmarked graves. In many schools, sexual abuse was common, and students were forced to work to help raise money for the school. Students were beaten for speaking their indigenous languages.[8][10]

By the 1950s, the government began to relax restrictions on the First Nations of Canada, and began to work towards shutting the schools down. In 1969, the government seized control of the residential schools from the churches; and by the 1980s, only a few schools remained open, with the last school closing in 1996.[11][12]

Truth and Reconciliation[edit]

In 1986, the United Church of Canada apologized for its role in the residential school system. In 1992, the Anglican church followed suit and apologized. Some Catholic organizations have apologized for their role in the residential school system, and in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI expressed sorrow for the experiences of the residential school survivors, but the Roman Catholic Church has not formally apologized for its role in the residential school system. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the pope to issue an apology over its role in the Indian residential school system.[13][14]

In 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was formed to investigate the relationship between indigenous peoples in Canada, the government of Canada, and Canadian society as a whole. When its final report was presented in 1996, it led the government to make a statement of reconciliation in 1998, and established the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.[12]

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the Indian residential school system, and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, to find out what happened at the Indian residential schools. The commission released its final report in 2015, which found that the Indian residential school system was an act of "cultural genocide" against the First Nations of Canada.[12]

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that the residential school system disrupted the ability of parents to pass on their indigenous languages to their children, leading to 70% of Canada's Aboriginal languages being classified as endangered. It found that the deliberately poor education offered at the residential school system created a poorly educated indigenous population in Canada, which impacted the incomes those students could earn as adults, and impacted the educational achievement of their children and grandchildren, who were frequently raised in low-income homes. It also found that the sexual and physical abuse received at the schools created life-long trauma in residential school survivors, trauma and abuse which was often passed down to their children and grandchildren, which continues to create victims of the residential school system today.[12][15]



The inspiration for Orange Shirt Day came from residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad, who shared her story at a St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion event held in Williams Lake, British Columbia, in the spring of 2013. Phyllis recounted her first day of residential schooling at six years old, when she was stripped of her clothes, including the new orange shirt her grandmother bought her, which was never returned. The orange shirt now symbolizes how the residential school system took away the indigenous identity of its students.[16][17][18][19][20]

Today, Orange Shirt Day exists as a legacy of the SJM Project, and September 30, the annual date of the event, signifies the time of year when Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to residential schools. The official tagline of the day, "Every Child Matters", reminds Canadians that all peoples' cultural experiences are important.[17][19]

In addition to simply wearing an orange shirt, Canadians are encouraged to learn more about the history of residential schools and their assimilation practices, drawing from Phyllis' experience in particular. For instance, many communities have held memorial walks, film screenings, and public lectures to raise awareness about Indigenous history.[21] Accordingly, school boards across Canada have begun to use this event to teach children about the historic system.[22]

Government recognition[edit]

In 2017, Canada's Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett encouraged people across Canada to participate in this commemorative and educational event.[23]

In 2018, the Department of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism announced its consideration for establishing a statutory holiday to honour the legacy of residential schools, whereby September 30 was one of the dates being considered.[24] The Heritage Committee chose Orange Shirt Day, which was submitted by Georgina Jolibois as a private member's bill to the House of Commons, where it passed on March 21, 2019; however, the bill was unable to make it through the Senate before the next election was called.[25][26]

On September 29, 2020, during the subsequent parliamentary session, Canada's Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault tabled a new bill proposing that Orange Shirt Day become a national statutory holiday, similar to the previous proposal by Georgina Jolibois. The new holiday would be officially named the "National Day for Truth and Reconciliation".[27] On May 28, 2021, the day after 215 children's bodies were discovered in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, all parties in the House of Commons agreed to fast-track the bill and it passed in the House of Commons by unanimous consent.[28][29] The bill passed the Senate unanimously six days later and received royal assent on June 3, 2021.[3]


On October 11, 2020, CBC Television and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network jointly aired Every Child Matters: Reconciliation Through Education, a television special produced by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to mark Orange Shirt Day by highlighting the stories of various residential school survivors.[4] The special received two Canadian Screen Award nominations at the 9th Canadian Screen Awards in 2021, for Best Children's or Youth Non-Fiction Program or Series and Best Picture Editing in a Factual Program or Series (Craig Anderson, Cathy Gulkin, James Kinistino and Ken Yan).[30]


One criticism of the annual event has been the high cost of the official shirts created by the Orange Shirt Society. Additionally, in 2017, because of the popularity of the event, there were challenges meeting the demand for shirts.[31] As a work-around, many local communities have created their own designs of T-shirts to wear on the day of the event. Designer Carey Newman created a limited edition t-shirt for Orange Shirt Day in 2017 that sold out in less than 48 hours.[32] Newman's father attended residential school and his design was in honour of that legacy.


  1. ^ "Témoignages". Permanent Committee on Canadian Heritage, House of Commons of Canada. November 8, 2018. Le Jour du chandail orange, en septembre, est une journée très importante qui gagne en popularité partout au pays.
  2. ^ Indian has been used because of the historical nature of the article and the precision of the name. It was, and continues to be, used by government officials, Indigenous peoples and historians while referencing the school system. The use of the name also provides relevant context about the era in which the system was established, specifically one in which Indigenous peoples in Canada were homogeneously referred to as Indians rather than by language that distinguishes First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Use of Indian is limited throughout the article to proper nouns and references to government legislation.
  3. ^ a b Bryden, Joan (June 3, 2021). "Royal assent given to bill creating national day for truth and reconciliation". Winnipeg Free Press. Bob Cox. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Kelly Townsend, "CBC, APTN to air special on residential school survivors". Playback, October 9, 2020.
  5. ^ "The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change." John A. Macdonald, 1887 "10 quotes John A. Macdonald made about First Nations". Indigenous Corporate Training. June 28, 2016. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  6. ^ Johnson, J.K.; Marshall, Tabitha (November 28, 2017). "Sir John A. MacDonald". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Anthony Wilson-Smith. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  7. ^ Davin, Nicholas F. (1879). "Report on industrial schools for Indians and half-breeds". Canadiana. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Sinclair, Murray; Wilson, Marie; Littlechild, Wilton (2015). "Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 1: Origins to 1939" (PDF). National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  9. ^ "Indian Act and the Pass System". Indigenous Corporate Training. June 23, 2015. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  10. ^ Wilson, Kory (2014). "The Indian Act". OpenText BC. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  11. ^ "A Condensed Timeline of Events" (PDF). Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d Sinclair, Murray; Wilson, Marie; Littlechild, Wilton (2015). "Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 2: 1939 to 2000" (PDF). National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  13. ^ "The Churches Apologize". Facing History and Ourselves. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  14. ^ "Trudeau asks Pope Francis to apologise for schools". BBC News. BBC. May 29, 2017. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  15. ^ Sinclair, Murray; Wilson, Marie; Littlechild, Wilton (2015). "Canada's Residential Schools: The Legacy" (PDF). National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  16. ^ "Phyllis (Jack) Webstad's story in her own words..." Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  17. ^ a b "The Story of Orange Shirt Day". Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  18. ^ "Orange Shirt Day: How a 6-year-old's 1st day at residential school inspired a movement". CBC News. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
  19. ^ a b "Orange Shirt Day". Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. University of British Columbia. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  20. ^ Sinclair, Murray; Littlechild, Wilton; Wilson, Marie (2015). "The Survivors Speak" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. pp. 39–45. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  21. ^ "Reconciliation week: Orange Shirt Day arrives early at B.C. Legislature". CBC News. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  22. ^ "AVRSB marks Orange Shirt Day to support First Nations students". The Chronicle Herald. October 17, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  23. ^ "Government of Canada Encourages Participation in Orange Shirt Day to Honour Residential Schools Survivors". Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  24. ^ "'Another step forward': Date of proposed holiday for reconciliation still needs to be set | CBC News". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  25. ^ Hwang, Priscilla (March 27, 2019). "National Day for Truth and Reconciliation may be Canada's next new statutory holiday". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  26. ^ Somos, Christy; Aiello, Rachel (June 21, 2019). "Indigenous stat holiday bill destined to die in Senate". Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  27. ^ Ballingall, Alex (September 29, 2020). "Liberal government tables bill to make Sept. 30 a national holiday to remember residential schools". The Toronto Star. Jordan Bitove. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  28. ^ Reynolds, Christopher (May 28, 2021). "MPs fast-track bill creating national day for truth and reconciliation". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  29. ^ "43rd PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION: JOURNALS, No. 106". House of Commons of Canada. May 28, 2021. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  30. ^ Brent Furdyk, "Television Nominees Announced For 2021 Canadian Screen Awards, ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Leads The Pack With 21 Nominations". ET Canada, March 30, 2021.
  31. ^ "Orange Shirt Day movement growing, but shirts themselves can be hard to find". CBC News. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  32. ^ "'Power of inspiration': Kwagiulth artist's Orange Shirt Day design sells out fast". CBC News. Retrieved October 20, 2017.

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