Orange Shirt Day in Saskatchewan aims to raise awareness of the impact the residential school system had on Indigenous people and the community.
The movement was inspired by Phyllis Webstad.
In the fall of 1973, she was a six-year-old Indigenous girl living in B.C., who had her new orange shirt forcefully removed from her on her first day of residential school.
Her story is now a powerful reminder of the inter-generational trauma that has resulted from decades of cultural loss.
Orange Shirt Day is now held nationally on Sept. 30 each year and is part of a larger movement in Canada to provide the opportunity for First Nations, governments, schools and communities to unite in a spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said it is encouraging everyone to wear an orange shirt on Monday to honour the thousands of First Nations children who were victims of Indian Residential School policy across the country.
“It’s estimated that approximately 150,000 First Nations children attended residential schools in Canada. Many of them (were) victims of severe physical, mental and sexual abuse, malnutrition and neglect,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said Monday in a press release.
“This was genocide committed on our most vulnerable and our people and communities still suffer from the lasting, inter-generational effects of this destructive Canadian policy. We must remember and commemorate them, especially the thousands of First Nations children that did not come home from school. Every child matters.”
The City of Saskatoon is inviting the public to attend events to mark the day and learn more about the historical legacy of residential schools.
Linda Young will share her story of time spent at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Indian Residential School. The event is free and takes place at Cosmo Civic Centre from 2 to 4 p.m.
“Our roots got shaken up, pulled up and cut off from our families but we are slowly re-rooting ourselves by reclaiming and re-learning our languages, our ceremonies – these are our sacred sites of resistance,” Young, from Onion Lake Cree Nation, said in a press release last week.
“Speaking our ancestral language, practicing our ceremonies, protecting the land and water, is slowly but surely unclogging the blocked arteries to our hearts, giving us new life.”
Another event will celebrate the children and families at three traditional ceremonies at Saskatoon’s White Buffalo Youth Lodge from 3 to 10 p.m. Hosted by survivors and an elders circle, the theme for the day is “Every Child Matters.”
The Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina is also hosting events for Orange Shirt Day. The afternoon session will feature rapper Brad Bellegarde, also known as InfoRed, and his song I Remember, which tells the story of the residential school experience.
“Learning about our shared history by recognizing the truths about the past and advocating for understanding is vital,” Education Minister Gordon Wyant said in a press release.
“Everyone has a role to play in reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day provides an opportunity for our province to recognize the history and impact of residential schools as we continue on the path to healing.”
Orange Shirt Day was first proclaimed in Saskatchewan in 2016.