Orange Shirt Day, 2021

“Truth” by Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun, commissioned by the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre for Orange Shirt Day 2021. Learn more about the artist and work at

As we approach Orange Shirt Day on September 30, now also the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we dedicate this special edition of Edubytes newsletter to commemorating the legacy of Residential Schools in Canada. This guest editorial shares opportunities to learn more about this history, and invites us all to reflect and engage with the healing and reconciliation process.

Our guest editors include Bronte Burnette, Educational Resource Developer from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology’s Indigenous Initiatives team; Julie Gordon, Senior Strategic Communications Manager from the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre; and Karleen Delaurier-Lyle, Information Service Librarian at X̱wi7x̱wa Library.

Content note: This editorial and resources address the topics of the Residential School System in Canada, missing children and the traumatic experiences of the Survivors of this system. Please take care when interacting with the materials below.

If you are a Residential School Survivor or intergenerational Survivor experiencing emotional distress because of Residential School experiences, the national 24-Hour Residential School Crisis Line can provide immediate mental health, wellness and cultural support over the phone: 1-866-925-4419.

Reflecting on the legacy of Canada’s Residential Schools

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day set aside to honour Residential School Survivors, their families and communities, and to look closely and deeply at the legacy and effects the Residential School System has left behind. We encourage everyone to use this time to have important conversations with their families, friends and communities about making reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a reality in BC.

September 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, a movement that began in 2013 in Williams Lake, BC, based on former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story. In 1976, on her first day at Residential School when she was six years old, the new orange shirt her grandmother bought for her to wear at school was taken from her and never returned. The shirt became a symbol of knowledge, family and countless experiences taken from Indigenous children through Residential Schools. The September 30 date was chosen for Orange Shirt Day as it reflects the time of year children were stolen from their homes and placed into this system.


Resources for learning and engaging with care

Learning about and discussing the Residential School System is not easy; it can cause feelings of guilt, discomfort and, if done without care, continued harm. The legacy of the Residential School System affects and has different impacts for different people and communities, depending on their own lived experience.

By educating ourselves, filling our knowledge gaps with correct information, and engaging in conversation in a heart-centered way, we can hold space to engage in reconciliation efforts and actions in a respectful and caring way. However, learning about this content can be emotionally triggering, so please take care of yourself and others when sharing and discussing this content.

To any members of our community, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, who want to further their own learning with care and responsibility, we would like to share resources that have been helpful to us.


Understanding the background & context of the Residential School System

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were removed from their families, cultures and lands to be placed in the Residential School System from the late 1800s until 1996. The schools were operated by the Government of Canada and church organizations as part of Canada’s official policy to assimilate Indigenous Peoples into Canadian society and to eliminate Indigenous culture.


Hearing Survivors’ testimonies

The above resources provide an extensive overview of the history of Residential Schools in Canada, but the most powerful statements about the system come from Survivors themselves.

The power of Survivors’ stories and their demands for justice for themselves, their families, and their communities is why the push for truth and reconciliation continues. The first step in any process of national reconciliation requires us all to hear these voices.


Missing children and unmarked burials

The confirmation of unmarked burials at Residential Schools across North America has confirmed truths already shared by Survivors, both within their communities and publicly in their testimonies. It reminds us of the hard and necessary truths that need to be continually processed and acted upon as the ongoing violence of settler colonialism continues to be revealed.


Engaging others — Holding conversations about Residential Schools

Creating and holding space to discuss the legacy of Residentials Schools must be done with care. Inviting people into a conversation on difficult topics in the classroom or workplace should allow people to engage in the way they want to, depending on where they are in their learning journey, and should include ways of accessing support after the conversation.


Events at UBC 

To join in honouring Residential School Survivors, their families, and communities, and to engage in reflection on the impacts of the Residential School System, we have provided several additional ways for you to get involved.

  • Picking up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket film screening and Q&A, September 21, 4:30–7 pm: The IRSDHC, UBC Learning Circle and First Nations House of Learning will present a virtual film screening, followed by a dialogue with Kwakiulth master carver and artist Carey Newman and his sisters Marion and Ellen.
  • Returning Home and Paths to Reconciliation film screening and Q&A, September 27, 11 am–1 pm: The IRSHDC, UBC Learning Circle and First Nations House of Learning will present an in-person screening of this new 45-minute documentary film about Phyllis Webstad, originator of Orange Shirt Day. The film will be followed by a live Q&A with Phyllis. (Venue TBC: should health guidelines change, this event will be shifted to a virtual platform.)
  • Intergenerational March for Orange Shirt Day, September 30, 12 noon: UBC Vancouver’s STEM Faculties (Applied Science, Land and Food Systems, Science, and Forestry) will host a joint event on September 30. The event will begin with a xʷməθkʷəy̓əm welcome, bannock and tea, and participants will join in a march along Main Mall to the Reconciliation Pole where the guest Elder/Survivor will address attendees.

Explore additional events on the IRSHDC’s Orange Shirt Day web page.

To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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