Until they were outlawed, residential schools housed over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children . These government-run schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children into European culture. Since their closing, tales of consistent and severe abuse have emerged. Children in these schools were separated from their families at a young age and prohibited from speaking their native language or practicing their customs and religion.
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 as part of the Commemoration and Reunion events held at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia. Phyllis Webstad, an advocate for Indigenous People’s rights, told the story of her childhood at a residential school. She shared her most memorable experience – arriving at the school to have all her clothing taken away from her, including her new orange shirt .
Orange Shirt Day is now recognized across Canada on 30 September. This day was chosen as it is the time of year when children were taken from their families to attend residential schools. It raises awareness about the effects that residential schools had on Indigenous peoples and the difficulties they faced and continue to face today.
30 September falls on a Sunday this year, however MGCI held Orange Shirt Day on Friday, 28 September. Members of the Social Justice and Equity Committee (SJEC) made orange ribbons that they handed out to students at the north doors before school. They also organized a photo booth in the cafeteria at lunch. Students had the opportunity to take pictures with signs that read, “#WeSupport,” “#MGCISupports,” and “#OrangeDay.” The ribbons were created so students who didn’t own own orange clothing could demonstrate their support.
Many students and teachers wore orange to show their support. Grade 10 student Tina Ma said, “I wore orange because I read about the event on a sticky note, and the problems Aboriginal people face is something that I wanted to help raise awareness for.” Orange sticky notes shaped like t-shirts had been placed around the school, in addition to posters. The event was also advertised on Facebook and Instagram.
When asked why she wanted to organize Orange Shirt Day at MGCI, Social Justice and Equity Convener Edith Nyamekye said, “I always knew about Orange Shirt Day but I never truly knew the meaning of it. When I took the time to read the story behind it I was really shocked and taken aback, so I knew I wanted to do something related to the day.” She added that her goal was to raise awareness of the origin of the event.
SJEC hopes to hold Orange Shirt Day again next year and get more students involved. They also want to invite a speaker to talk about residential schools and the experiences of First Nations children. Edith thought that the event was successful and commented, “I want to keep the discussion around residential schools at the forefront.”
For more information on Orange Shirt Day, visit http://www.orangeshirtday.org/ .