Why Do We Have Orange Shirt Day?

By John Swartz

Thursday, September 30 is the first time Canada observes a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. A lot can be written about what it is and why it is a federal holiday, but the best way to understand those things is to watch a video with Phyllis Webstad telling the story of the origin.

Colloquially known as Orange Shirt Day, one might think that term started as bureaucratic shorthand for the observance, but it is Webstad’s name for it and has been adopted by Native communities, so using the term would not appear to be a patronizing way to refer to the day of observance.

It is a rare thing to be able to trace reasons for the existence of holidays to one person and how that individual story started a national movement. There are other videos on the Orange Shirt Society Youtube page which will help to get better understanding of why this nation needs to come to terms and observe this day. The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation also has a Youtube channel with many videos about Native culture and this day of observance.

It is technically a Statutory Holiday and federal employees and those who work for federally regulated companies get the day off, but it is not really a holiday like most of the others when kicking back and celebrating is the order of the day, but more like Remembrance Day where we take time to understand why it is an important day and how society has come to be because of the events being commemorated.

The video is a good starting point and there is a website with more information you could take time to learn about. The government’s webpage for Orange Shirt Day has several links to documents about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work and findings. One of those links leads to the 94 Calls to Action.

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux

One of the people directly involved in the commission is Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux. She is Lakehead University’s Indigenous Chair for Truth and Reconciliation and also has posts at the University of Manitoba and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Among the work she has done which lead her to Orillia and the university was being called as an Honourary Witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She will be speaking online today about, “where we have been, where we are now, and where we must go to improve relations with Canada and to ensure Indigenous peoples have a positive future.”

You can register for the hour long talk, which starts at 12:30 p.m. and a link to the online presentation will be emailed to you.

Here in Orillia some public buildings have swapped out their lights for orange ones. An Every Child Matters Flag was raised at the Opera House early this week, and the City has a webpage listing activities today and through next week.

There is more to understanding how we all came to be at this time beyond the residential schools tragedy, which is at the core of Orange Shirt Day. You can see the play Mno Bimaadiziwin at the Opera House this evening at 8 p.m. It tells the tales of what happened in the lives of four people from Simcoe County who are about to enter a sweat lodge. You can get tickets online.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Port of Orillia Orange Shirt Day.


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