In September 1973, Phyllis Webstad was sent to a residential school outside of Williams Lake, BC. She was six years old, and she was immensely proud of the new orange shirt she had been given by her grandmother, a beautiful orange shirt she wore on her first day of school. A new shirt was a rarity - her grandmother didn't have much money, and new clothes were hard to come by. So when her orange shirt was taken away, and replaced with the requisite school-issued uniform, part of her identity was stripped away, along with the shirt. It was just the beginning of her experience with the systemic, state-ordered assimilation, abuse, shame and neglect that she, and thousands of other First Nations children, endured in residential schools.
The orange shirt has become a symbol of the damage that was wrought by the residential school system. Now in its third year, Orange Shirt Day on September 30 is a call for all Canadians to remember that every child matters, and that it's our collective responsibility to recognize, acknowledge and honour the survivors of residential schools as part of our national journey to reconciliation.
For us at End Poverty Edmonton, heartfelt and sincere reconciliation is one of our top priorities, and you can read more about it in our strategy and road map. Orange Shirt Day is just one small way we can honour our indigenous partners, and we will be wearing our orange shirts with pride - just as Phyllis should have been able to do on that day back in 1973.
It's through the power of stories that we learn, we respect, we engage and we heal. If you're in Edmonton, join Safe and Caring Schools and Communities at City Hall, with partners from the City of Edmonton, at noon on Friday September 30 to officially mark this event, and wherever you are, wear an orange shirt in honour of kids like Phyllis.
For more info http://safeandcaring.ca/orangeshirtday2016/
May we all remember that #EveryChildMatters. #OrangeShirtDay2016.