by WillowWood's Steve Taylor
Orange Shirt Day, also known as the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, was created in 2013. The purpose of this soon-to-be statutory holiday was to educate people and raise awareness about Canada’s residential school system and its impact on Indigenous people. It is held annually on September 30th, as it was at this time of the year that trucks and buses would enter communities to collect children and deliver them to their harsh new reality of cultural assimilation, abuse, and deprivation.
Orange Shirt Day is a movement that was inspired by events that took place in 1973 at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, British Columbia, where six-year-old Phyllis Webstad was about to start her first day of “school”.
Young Phyllis was wearing her brand-new shiny orange shirt that day. Now, you must understand that new clothes were a rare and wonderful thing for a First Nation girl growing up in the care of her grandmother. This was a BIG deal, and the shirt gave Phyllis some comfort on this scary first day. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Upon arrival, the Mission Oblates immediately stripped the orange shirt from Phyllis and replaced it with the school’s institutional uniform.
Her shirt was never returned to her, and it was never found. But it will forever exist in our hearts and minds; to remind us of the atrocities committed by our residential school systems and the pain and suffering endured by our Indigenous communities.