Rooted in Culture

Truth and Reconciliation

Until recent months there has been little or no attention from the news media, government, and education system of the buried past of Indigenous children. As the main stream media began sharing the horrific news of burials found at residential schools, generational suffering has opened up for us again. The federal Indian residential schools and policy have consciously and intentionally been omitted from the rest of the world. 

We mourn the children - our ancestors taken from us. Every Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nation family has its own story. We know that this trauma lives within us and is passed down intergenerationally through our DNA as a shared memory. 

Orange Shirt Day is held annually on September 30th and has been observed since 2013 in memory of a piece of clothing then-six-year-old Phyllis Webstad had taken from her on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in 1973. Phyllis had gone to school wearing a brand new bright orange t-shirt given from her grandmother. When she got to the residential school, the Mission Oblates took away her clothes. And she never saw that orange shirt again. 

Orange Shirt Day

The color orange has become a symbol of the residential schools, fighting racism and bullying. To Phyllis, orange reminds her of the experiences at the St. Joseph’s Mission School in British Columbia and has said, “how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Orange Shirt Day is a day when we honor the children who were removed from their communities and sent away to government funded residential schools in Canada and the United States. Once there, they had to hand over their belongings, put on uniforms, cut off their braids, adopt new names and abandon their languages and cultural practices.

The date, September 30, was chosen because that was the time trucks and buses would enter communities to “collect” children and deliver them to their harsh school full of cultural assimilation, mental, sexual and physical abuse, shame and deprivation. In the mid-1800s the U.S. government began funding these boarding schools for Indigenous children on a large-scale, Canada quickly followed suit. The actual stated purpose of the schools was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”. These schools lasted until the 1960’s, with hundreds of thousands of Native children taken from their families and forced to attend one or more of the 367 schools. 

In the residential schools in both the U.S. and Canada death was common from diseases that were caused by deliberate neglect, malnutrition and mistreatment, or the frequent occurrence of students running away and dying from exposure, drowning or starvation. Many children never returned home and their fates have yet to be accounted for by the U.S. government. 

This is a sensitive time across Turtle Island as we continue to move toward truth, reconciliation, and healing from the collective impact of boarding schools. Together, we can heal from the intergenerational effects of boarding schools in Canada and the United States. 

We are all survivors. Despite attempted genocide - our people are strong, resilient, and we persist! 

Today, 73 of these school remain open and 15 are still boarding Indigenous students. You can learn more by visiting the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition website. 

Orange Shirt Day

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