First Peoples' House

Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day

On September 30 (observed at the U of A on Friday, September 28, 2018), we encourage everyone to wear an orange shirt to honour and remember the experiences and loss of the thousands of children who were stolen from their families and placed in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). 

One of the greatest impacts of IRS was cultural genocide; this is why we decided to turn this painful history into a positive one, to reclaim this time of year, and get back to our cultural and traditional roots in post-secondary. Just because our students leave their homefires to continue their academic journey does not mean they leave behind their traditions. We need to uphold them and provide them space to connect and reconnect with traditions and culture. 

Orange Shirt Day is a day for coming together to discuss moving toward a journey of respect and equal partnerships for a greater outcome of reconciliation. This journey of reconciliation is a lifelong relationship that needs to be nourished and cherished, with clear communication, kindness, and honesty.

We encourage you to wear this orange shirt on September 30, and post pictures of yourself using the hashtag #OrangeShirtDay and #UAlberta. We want to make every Orange Shirt Day a day of giving back to the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit learners at the University of Alberta. We welcome your support in whatever capacity you are able to give at this time!

Why Orange Shirts

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad's story of having her new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually. 

You can read Phyllis' story at orangeshirtday.org

Why September 30th

The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools, and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.

From Shana Dion, Assistant Dean, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students

Autumn can be the saddest time for so many survivors because the changing of the leaves meant that they were not going to see their families for a very long time (a full school year) or sadly never see their families again. Most of us now can hardly leave our little ones in daycare or school for a day, never mind a whole year of wondering ‘how they are doing?’, ‘are they happy?’, ‘are they having a good day?’, ‘has anyone hurt them?’, or ‘are they sick or in pain?’. For the most part there was little to no communication between children sent to Indian Residential School (IRS) and their families; can you imagine?  

Imagine being taken away from your parents at the age of five. Being given a number instead of a name. Being punished for speaking the only language you know. Being cut off from your family. Imagine being a parent, and being threatened with jail if you didn’t give up your children. Imagine being cut off from your children for ten years! What would it do to your family?

On a personal note, as a first generation survivor if given the opportunity I always want to honour nohtawiy (my father), George Dion, who was stolen from his mother (and my Kokum, ‘grandmother’), Sarah Dion, to attend Blue Quills Residential School for 5 years when he was very young.