As Canadians reflected on the history and legacy of residential schools for Orange Shirt Day on Monday, Alberta’s Indigenous relations minister issued a news release calling for an end to “racism and misunderstanding” still faced by Indigenous people.
“The time to end that is now,” Rick Wilson said. “Each year on Sept. 30, we put on orange shirts to honour survivors’ experiences and to acknowledge that tragic past.
“Each one of us bears a responsibility to support safe and inclusive environments for generations of children to come.”
Orange Shirt Day began as an event in Williams Lake, B.C. in 2013 to remember residential schools.
The orange shirts are meant to remember the story of a six-year-old girl named Phyllis, who had her new orange shirt taken away from her on her first day of school at the St. Joseph Mission. It has since seen similar events spring up across Canada.
“About 12,000 residential school survivors and their families live in Alberta,” Wilson said. “They are our friends and our neighbours.
“For generations, they have carried with them trauma of being pulled from their families, punished for speaking their languages and, far too often, abused at the hands of their caretakers.”
Wilson said Monday that the Alberta government is “working every day to create more inclusive experiences for Indigenous students in Alberta.”
Sponsored by the federal government, Canada’s Christian-run residential schools were used to assimilate Indigenous children into white Canadian culture. The practice began in the late 19th Century and the last school was closed in 1996.