By Isabella Keats
September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for all Indigenous peoples who died, survived, and had generations of trauma and stories passed down about residential schools. In support, we wear orange shirts to represent our acknowledgment and awareness of the abuses Indigenous peoples faced.
The orange shirt represents the story of a residential school student named Phyllis Webstad. Phyllis was just six years old when she attended St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in British Columbia. The bright orange shirt was given to Phyllis by her grandmother for the first day. Unfortunately, because children’s belongings were taken away from them when they arrived at the residential schools, Phyllis never got to wear her orange shirt. She says that the colour orange now reminds her of how no one cared and made all those kids feel worthless.
Orange Shirt Day is a day of grief for those who died and those who have survived but continue to be haunted by memories and intergenerational trauma. Indigenous people have faced over 150 years of racist abuse and yet we are struggling to do anything to fix it. We still play O Canada right after the Land Acknowledgements which feels counter-productive. People don’t pay attention to make a change, and some don’t even wear an orange shirt for one day of the year. I’ve heard O Canada almost every day of my life since I was 5 years old and yet some schools are still struggling to add land acknowledgments to their morning routine. It’s not hard to educate and learn from our past, you just have to be willing to actually learn and change.
It’s not just individual people and schools struggling to change, it’s also our government. A few years ago, the Ford government backed away from adding Indigenous curriculum to high schools, even after everything was set up and ready to be discussed. When the Ford government was asked about it, he said it was to save money even though the meeting and hotels were already paid for. The government is slow on enforcing this change when this change to our education is so vital for our future. It's frustrating that the government is still downplaying these parts of our history.
I’m aware that change is still being made. There's Orange Shirt Day, the grade 11 Contemporary First Nations, Métis and Inuit Voices [FNMI] course for English class, the grade 9 Expressions of FNMI Cultures art class, the grade 10 FNMI in Canada history class and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s great that we are making small changes, but we need to challenge them a bit more. We need more Indigenous classes, more representation in the media, better resources like clean drinking water, and awareness that we are living on the land we stole from them. We’ve made progress, I won’t knock that, but we need to keep the momentum going and do more and educate more people.