Students across the Valley will once again be wearing orange shirts on September 30, in recognition of the national day of remembrance for victims of the Canadian residential school system. The orange shirt was chosen as a symbol for this day in reference to the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad, who, at six years old, had her favourite orange shirt stripped from her on her very first day at residential school. As the horrifying discoveries of the remains of hundreds, and maybe thousands, of children buried on the grounds of residential schools are ongoing, the orange shirt has taken on even more significance.
On June 3 of this year, the Canadian government designated September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and introduced a statutory holiday for all federally regulated employees. The inspiration behind the designation stems directly from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, which outlined 94 recommendations, including a call to establish a statutory holiday to “honour Survivors, their families and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Provinces can designate holidays as well; however, most have chosen not to observe September 30 as a holiday. In Quebec, Premier François Legault outright rejected the possibility of recognizing and honouring the province’s Indigenous Peoples, saying simply that we have enough statutory holidays. It was an unfortunate response, and one that shows just how out-of-step our society is with one that properly acknowledges the truth of the tragedy and the need for reconciliation.
Wearing an orange shirt is only one, very small, step. It can be made only slightly bigger if we take the time out of our day to truly listen to, learn from, and honour those who survived the Canadian residential school system and who bear the burden of this legacy.