Orange Shirt Day: September 30th
This year, September 30, 2021, marks an inaugural statutory holiday in Canada in observance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or Orange Shirt Day. It was originally created as a day of observance in 2013 and is designed to educate and promote awareness about the Indian residential school system, and the devastating impact it had on indigenous communities for over a century.
In brief, shortly after Confederation, in a misguided attempt to secure Canada as a nation and forge a single Canadian identity, the government of Canada felt it should absorb the First Nations into the general population and essentially extinguish their culture. One of the methods used was to open residential schools, in conjunction with a number of Christian churches, that would separate indigenous children from their parents and culture. The children would effectively be immersed in the ‘new’ Canada, leaving behind their native roots.
As a result, children were literally seized from their parents and forced to stay in residential schools, which were located far away from their homes, to minimize visitation by family. The schools were underfunded, conditions were horrible, children were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, and disease ran rampant. Many schools did not inform students’ families of their passing and buried them in unmarked graves.
During the more than 100 years of the system’s existence, over 150,000 children were placed in residential schools nationally and while the exact number of school-related deaths is unknown, it is estimated to be between 3,200 and 30,000. By the 1950’s, restrictions on First Nations started to relax and the Canadian government started to shut the schools down and seized control of the system from the churches. By the late 1980’s, only a few schools remained open, and the last residential school closed in 1996.
Beginning in the 1980s’, many of the secular communities in Canada began to apologize for their role in the residential school system, and starting in the early 1990’s, the Canadian government began to acknowledge, investigate and recognize its participation in what is now considered an act of cultural genocide against the First Nations of Canada. Steps were initiated to uncover the truth about what happened in the residential school system and begin the process of reconciliation and healing.
The inspiration for Orange Shirt Day came from a residential school survivor, who 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 had bought her. The shirt was never returned. The orange shirt now symbolizes how the residential school system took away the identities of its students.
Orange Shirt Day, September 30th, was elevated to a statutory holiday in May 2021 and is symbolic of the time of year when indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed in the residential schools the official motto, “Every Child Matters”, is meant to remind us that all peoples’ cultural experience is important. Canadians are encouraged to not only wear an orange shirt on September 30th but to learn more about the history of residential schools, the atrocities that occurred, and the importance of protecting indigenous heritage.
On Thursday, September 30, 2021, BCL Consulting Group will be closed in observance and recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We will wear our orange shirts and take time to reflect on and to honor those affected by the Residential Schools. We hope you will join us. As always, we are available to answer your questions and/or address your concerns to the best of our ability. You can reach us directly at [email protected], [email protected], by phone at 1-844-377-9545 or you can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.