Canada's Orange Shirt Day remembers victims of Indian Residential Schools

Events planned throughout country to mark tragic history, including tales of abuse that only emerged in recent decades

Barry Ellsworth  | 30.09.2023 - Update : 01.10.2023
Canada's Orange Shirt Day remembers victims of Indian Residential Schools


It’s Orange Shirt Day Saturday in Canada, a day for all Canadians to reflect on the tragic history of those living and dead who were forced to attend Indian Residential Schools.

It is also known as National Truth and Reconciliation Day, as the truth about the horrors of the historic schools has finally been acknowledged and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous journey towards a reconciliation or reuniting of Canadians.

“Today, as we mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, we confront the lasting impacts of the residential school system for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis in Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Saturday.

“We come together to remember the children who were stolen from their communities, and those whose lives were stolen from them at these so-called schools. We honour the Survivors, many of whom suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. We listen to their truths.”

About 130 of the boarding schools were established in Canada run by religious dominations, including about 60% by the Roman Catholic Church. Horror stories are told of what happened at the schools, the last one of which closed in the 1990s.

“Between 1867 and 1998, over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children were taken from their families and communities and forced to attend residential schools, where they were banned from speaking their languages and practising their cultures and traditions,” Trudeau said.

It is known as Orange Shirt Day because as a 6-year-old, Phyllis Webstad was forced to leave her home in the Secwepemc Nation and attend a residential school in British Columbia. She wore an orange shirt to the school, but it was taken away and never given back. Today, the shirts are generally marked by the words, “Every Child Matters.”

Events were planned across Canada, including walks, guest speakers, and ceremonies as exemplified by the Splatsin First Nation in British Columbia.

The main remembrance ceremonies are in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, where survivors, Indigenous leaders, and various dignitaries join Governor General Mary Simon, who is Inuk (Inuit), in a solemn event called “Remembering the Children.”

Meanwhile, various First Nations continue to search the grounds of residential schools, looking for what might be graves of children that are not marked or where markers have disappeared over the years. To date more than 2,000 potential gravesites are being investigated.​​​​​​​

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