Photo: Design from Indigenous artist and Arts Umbrella Board member James Harry (Nexw’Kalus)
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, on September 30, serves as a stark reminder of the injustices faced by Indigenous people, especially in residential schools. It is a significant step toward healing and reconciliation, while raising awareness about the lasting effects of residential schools and colonization on Indigenous peoples throughout the country.
Orange Shirt Day originated from residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad’s personal experience. A member of the Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation and survivor of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, Phyllis has shared her story widely as the founder and ambassador of Orange Shirt Day. Her childhood experience of having a cherished orange shirt stripped from her symbolizes the broader suffering of Indigenous children whose identities and cultures were stripped away through the residential school system and underlines the resulting intergenerational trauma experienced by survivors.
Awareness helps educate all Canadians about the history and impact of residential schools. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation allows collective reflection on past injustices, while Orange Shirt Day emphasizes individual experiences and emotional trauma. Both promote compassion by fostering dialogue and collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, nurturing empathy, understanding, and unity.
And most importantly, September 30 is a call for action. It challenges governments, institutions, and individuals to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, address disparities in healthcare, education, and justice, and respect Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
Here’s how individuals can actively support and participate in meaningful observances:
Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about the history of residential schools and the experiences of Indigenous peoples. Read books, watch documentaries, and engage with Indigenous literature and art to gain a deeper understanding.
Listen and Learn: Engage in open, empathetic conversations with Indigenous friends, family members, or community members. Their perspectives and experiences are invaluable in fostering understanding.
Wear an Orange Shirt: On Orange Shirt Day, wear an orange shirt as a symbol of your commitment to reconciliation and raising awareness about the impacts of residential schools. Encourage others to do the same.
Participate in Local Events: Attend local events, ceremonies, or gatherings organized by Indigenous communities or advocacy groups. These events provide an opportunity to listen, learn, and show support.
Teach Others: Share your knowledge and understanding with friends and family. Encourage them to participate in conversations and events related to reconciliation.
Support Indigenous Businesses: Seek out and support Indigenous-owned businesses and artists. This can help strengthen Indigenous communities and economies.
Advocate for Change: Support policies and initiatives aimed at addressing disparities in healthcare, education, and justice for Indigenous peoples. Advocate for the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Read the TRC Report: Familiarize yourself with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and its 94 Calls to Action. Hold government officials accountable for progress on these recommendations.
Donate to Indigenous Organizations: Contribute to Indigenous-led organizations and charities working towards reconciliation, healing, and supporting Indigenous communities.
Reflect and Self-Examine: Take a moment to reflect on your own biases and privilege. Be open to personal growth and actively challenge stereotypes and prejudices.
Create Safe Spaces: Foster inclusive and safe spaces where Indigenous voices are heard and respected. Promote diversity and inclusion in your workplace, school, or community.
Participate Year-Round: While these observances have designated days, reconciliation is a year-round commitment. Continue to engage in these actions and conversations beyond these specific dates.
Watch BC Achievement’s short films: Peruse the treasury of short films produced by BC Achievement highlighting the accomplishments of BC’s First Nations artists and Indigenous entrepreneurs. Find them on our YouTube channel.
BC Achievement: Elevate Excellence. Share Success. Inspire Change.