Orange Shirt Day, also called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation or National Day of Remembrance, is observed yearly on September 30 in Canada and the United States. The Day extends from the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events orchestrated by Chief Fred Robbins that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013. The project gathered former students and their families, local officials, and civic organizations to listen to and commemorate the experiences and journeys of survivors and their families and to commit to the continuing process of reconciliation.
Starting in the 19th century, the Canadian and U.S. governments and various church groups established residential (or boarding) schools for Indigenous children with the goal of assimilating them and thus eradicating Indigenous Peoples, their languages, and cultures. In 1920 in Canada, under the Indian Act, it became compulsory for every Indigenous child to attend a residential school and unlawful for them to attend any other educational institution. In the U.S. the Indian Civilization Act Fund of 1819, the Peace Policy of 1869, and various denominations of the Christian Church adopted an Indian boarding school policy with the goal to “Kill the Indian, save the man”. These children were forcibly removed from their families, communities, and cultures and kept in residential schools where they were expected to assimilate (cut their hair, abandon traditional clothing, give up their names and take on English names) and were penalized for speaking their languages and practicing their cultural beliefs. Children were separated from their families for long periods (sometimes over four years) and were taught their cultures were inferior. In addition to cultural genocide, residential schools were also the sites of horrific physical, sexual, and emotional abuse perpetrated against these children. From the 1880s, upwards of 150,000 Indigenous children went to over 130 residential schools across Canada, the last of which closed in 1996. It is estimated that between four and six thousand children died at these residential schools. Between 1819 and 1969, the U.S. operated or supported 408 boarding schools. At the time of a 1969 report, 34,605 children were enrolled in Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding schools and 15,450 enrolled in BIA day schools. Since its start in June 2021, the Federal Indian Boarding School initiative has identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 of these schools.
Orange Shirt Day initiated, and continues to allow for, conversations about residential schools on an international scale, and allows for meaningful discussions of the impacts and legacies of residential schools. The orange shirt, inspired by Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s experience of having her orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother, taken away upon arrival to the Mission school. The orange color reminded Webstad of her experience and “how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
This year Canada will hold its second statutory holiday observation of Orange Shirt Day to commemorate the missing and murdered children from residential schools and honor the healing journeys of residential school survivors.
While Orange Shirt Day started in Canada, it is also observed in the United States and has a growing global impact. Cultural Survival joins First Nations in Canada and Native communities in the United States in mourning the deaths and abuse of generations of Indigenous children at residential and boarding schools, as well as honoring their stories and the healing of survivors. We join in collective calls to action — the implementation of all 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, and the operationalization of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, particularly Article 7, which states: “Indigenous Peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.” Cultural Survival also joins in the calls asking Pope Francis to commit resources for justice, reconciliation, healing initiatives, and returning Indigenous lands.
Cultural Survival Staff in solidarity.
This September 30 and throughout the year, learn about the painful experiences and legacies of residential schools in Canada and the U.S. from survivors, their families, and organizations; show your support for Truth and Reconciliation by wearing orange (and supporting Indigenous organizations, causes, or artists); and act on what you’ve learned by educating your family, friends, and communities; contact your governmental leaders to ask what actions they are taking on the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and support Indigenous activists, artists, creators, and businesses.
Today and every day, we encourage you to learn whose lands you reside on, learn local Indigenous histories, support and resource Indigenous leadership and organizations, buy from Indigenous business owners and artists, and share what you have learned with your communities and networks.
- The Orange Shirt Society – the organization that initiated this commemorative day and related events
- The Orange Path movement https://www.orangepath.ca
- Alaska-specific toolkit
- National Museum of the American Indian chapter on boarding schools
- American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many NPR Morning Edition segment
- Métis Nation of Alberta reading list from survivors of residential schools
- Whose Land is it Anyways? A Manual for Decolonization
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- Beyond 94 – a website monitoring progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action
- Reconciliation Education – online courses and films that provide comprehensive anti-racist education
- Nikki Sanchez for TEDxSFU “Decolonization Is for Everyone”
- Ginger Gosnell-Myers for TEDxVancouver “Canadian Shame: A History of Residential Schools”
- Truth and Reconciliation Week 2021 session recordings
- National Center for Truth and Reconciliation
- National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
- Orange Shirt Day: Uncovering the Dark History of Residential Schools in Canada
- Donate to Phyllis Webstad and the Orange Shirt Society as they continue to raise awareness across the globe about residential schools
- Take the Indigenous Canada online course offered by the University of Alberta and their Faculty of Native Studies
- Contact your governmental leaders to ask what actions they are taking on the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- We Are Children of Indian Residential School Survivors: Awakening Our Spirits, Our Purpose & Our Confidence online panel (Sept 21)
- Truth and Reconciliation Workshop Series organized by Tribal Trade Co.
- Smudging Ceremony Sharing Circle Workshop (Sept 26)
- 7 Grandfather Teachings Sharing Circle Workshop (Sept 27)
- Medicine Wheel Sharing Circle Workshop (Sept 28)
- Orange Shirt Day Sharing Circle Workshop (Sept 29)
- Truth and Reconciliation Sharing Circle Workshop (Sept 30)
- Embracing Truth for Meaningful Reconciliation virtual webinar (Sept 26) hosted by HRx
- “Gidinawendimin – We Are All Related” (Sept 29) – Truth and Reconciliation Week’s first live stage program features performances that help us learn about Indigenous cultures, languages, and traditions and the history of residential schools from Survivors, Indigenous performers, activists, and Knowledge Keepers
- On Truth and Reconciliation talk with artist James Harry (Sept 30)
- Family Event: Orange Shirt Designing and Molly of Denali “Grandpa’s Drum” Screening (virtual and in-person at B.P. Energy Center, Anchorage, AK)
Ottawa, ON, Canada
- Remember Me: National Day of Truth and Reconciliation Ceremony (Sept 30 8:30–11:30 am ET, Parliament Hill) – A national youth-led initiative on Parliament Hill featuring an opening ceremony with Elder Claudette Commanda, an eagle feather presentation to Survivors, performances, and speakers such as Autumn Peltier — Global Indigenous Water Activist & Chief Water Commissioner, Anishinabek Nation.
- Traveling Song & Spirit Walk (Sept 30 11:30 AM ET, Parliament Hill to LeBreton Flats) – Join us on a walk from Parliament Hill to LeBreton Flats Park led by children and residential school Survivors. Upon arriving at the park, thousands of attendees will place Indigenous children’s footwear on the stage as a symbol of remembrance of the children who never made it home.
- Remembering the Children Live broadcast (Sept 30 1:00–2:00 PM ET, LeBreton Flats Park) – The NCTR and APTN have come together to produce a one-hour commemorative gathering presented in English, French, Inuktitut, and Cree that will broadcast live at 1:00 pm from LeBreton Flats Park in Ottawa. Tune in to hear Survivors’ personal reflections as well as key speakers the His Honor Murray Sinclair and Her Excellency Mary Simon about their experiences and the importance of reconciliation. The commemoration will include performances by Chubby Cree, Dennis Saddleman, and many more. The special gathering will serve as an opportunity for everyone to grieve, heal and learn about this tragic history.
Winnipeg, MB, Canada
- National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (Sept 30, 11:00 AM CT, Winnipeg Art Gallery) – The Winnipeg Art Gallery is hosting a special day of programming in partnership with the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation. All are welcome for a screening of Truth and Reconciliation Week program episodes as well as NCTR’s live national broadcast, Remembering the Children, airing at 12:00 pm CT. Following the screening will be a book launch and a public discussion about the history of the residential school system.
- Orange Shirt Days @ the Manitoba Museum (Friday, September 30 to Sunday, October 2, The Manitoba Museum) – The Manitoba Museum will feature special, all-day programming in the Museum Galleries focused on the history of residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The programming includes videos from the NCTR, a self-guided tour of the many exhibits relevant to the history of the residential school system and the TRC, as well as a Manitoba Cares station where visitors can share their thoughts and make their own commitment to take action for Reconciliation.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
- Healing Journey One Button at a Time, Red Path, and Now is the Time screenings (Sept 20 12–1pm, Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Center at UBC) – Screening of three short films followed by a brief discussion
- Cultivating Transformative Reconciliation Conference (Sept 21–22, Vancouver School of Theology)
- Intergenerational March to commemorate Orange Shirt Day (Sept 30 11am–2:30pm, Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Center) – Join us for an intergenerational march to commemorate Orange Shirt Day. Members of the UBC STEM community, families and those in solidarity are welcome to participate. As this event is held on the day and classes are canceled, we hope that the statutory holiday will allow faculty, staff, students and community members join the march and engage with the UBC Indigenous community. The march is intergenerational, and aims to be educational and supportive to the Indigenous community on campus and beyond. Educational activities will allow younger participants to connect with the original inhabitants of the land and plant a seed to continue these conversations of a difficult era in Canadian history at home.
Edmonton, AB, Canada
- Orange Shirt Day Run/Walk (Sept 30 3pm MDT, 10380 Queen Elizabeth Park Rd, Edmonton, AB T6E 6C6, Canada) – Run/Walk in support and awareness of those who did not survive the Residential school era and for those who did. This event aims to raise funds for the OrangeShirtDay.org and local grassroots movements including promoting and supporting Indigenous athletes. This will be a combination of pavement and trail run through the beautiful YEG river valley trails to Hawrelak Park and back and includes three distances of 5 & 10 km and a kids 2.15 km race at the same location. Not seven years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada had estimated that more than 4,100 Indigenous children have perished due to “disease or accident while attending a residential school.” Tragically, ongoing investigations have revealed thousands more unmarked gravesites near to, or on the grounds of Canada’s former residential schools. Please join us again on September 30th in remembrance and to yell loudly that
Anchorage and Juneau, AK, USA
- Morning Wave and Wear Your Orange Shirt (Sept 30, 7:30–9AM Anchorage at corner of Minnesota and Northern Lights; 6:45–7:45AM Juneau time at Mendenhall Wetlands)
- Evening Gatherings
- Anchorage (6–8PM at the Eklutna Powwow Grounds): Join us for an evening gathering in honor of National Day of Remembrance of US Indian Boarding Schools/ Orange Shirt Day. This event is a potluck, please let us know your group size and what kind of item you can bring if you can contribute in the form at the right. *please bring a camp chair and clothing for outdoor weather. There will be a covering and firepit.
- Juneau (5–7PM at Sayeik Gastineau School): Includes 30 minute gathering around totem pole outside, gallery walk indoors on the way to the gymnasium, recap of last years event, presentation by Mayflower school, presentation regarding local day school Douglas Island Friends Mission School (this is our highlight this year), and food will be provided (stew & pizza).
Boston, MA, USA