Also known simply as Orange Shirt Day, the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation takes place annually on September 30 in Canada. Since the federal statutory holiday was created in 2021, this year will mark the second annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Put simply, the goals of the day are to honour and commemorate those healing from residential schools (including survivors, their families and their communities) and raise awareness for reconciliation in Canada. More specifically, as the day’s official page notes, September 30 is “an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family and community inter-generational impacts of residential schools, and to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters.”
But what does this mean, and how can people in Canada do this?
Colonization in Canada, living on certain unceded territory and lack of understanding of Indigenous history are all common to this land, and it is important that we work at acknowledging these problems by encouraging ourselves to learn.
On September 30, we wear orange shirts not just in support of the day, but also to raise awareness for the residential school tragedies that happened on our land, to acknowledge the past, to better the present and to encourage more change for the future.
With that said, here are the basics you need to know about origins of Orange Shirt Day and the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Related: 10 Indigenous people who shaped Canadian history.
Why do we wear orange on Orange Shirt Day?
There’s a reason why we wear orange on September 30 — and it comes down to a story of survival and strength.
The story of the orange shirt dates back many years ago, to then-six-year-old Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. As Webstad explained on the Orange Shirt Society’s website, she was given the gift of an orange shirt from her grandmother as a celebration of her beginning the first day of school for the 1973/1974 school year— at a residential school.
“We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school,” Webstad said.
On her very first day, however, her clothes were stripped from her, along with her identity, similarly to many others who were forced to comply with the ways of residential schooling. Her clothes, along with her orange shirt, were never returned to her.
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again,” Webstad said.
“I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared,” she added.
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Starting in 2013 and inspired by Webstad’s story, Orange Shirt Day has been a day to commemorate the trauma of the residential school experience, to honour the healing of survivors and their families and to recognize the ongoing need for the process of reconciliation. Today, Phyllis Webstad (who is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) is the Founder and Ambassador of the Orange Shirt Society, an organization that advocated the importance of this day, taking a huge step forward for reconciliation in Canada.
We wear orange to honour Webstad, and the thousands of others just like her (it’s estimated that more than 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children attended residential schools during their existence) — children who experienced the horrors, abuse and sometimes deadly conditions) of residential schools at the hands of churches.
@slicedotca Thank you @ohkairyn 🧡 #truthandreconciliation #indigenoustiktok #nationaldayfortruthandreconciliation ♬ Calming song(1107108) – syummacha
There are many ways to commemorate National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. If you’re not sure where to start, you can watch @ohkairyn’s TikTok for Slice.ca above, and we’ve also rounded up the below steps as a way of guidance.
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7 ways to honour the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation
Join local activities
Participating in events in your area are a great way to learn more and show support. Hundreds of activities can be found across Canada (this collection of previous-years’ events can be a good starting place), welcoming all to come out — orange shirts are encouraged.
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Wear orange and support local
While it may seem simple, wearing orange on September 30 makes an impact — it’s a way for people to show support and acknowledge their understanding and recognition of what the day represents. We now know why to wear orange shirts, and buying from locally owned Indigenous shops is a good way to do it.
Spend some time throughout the day indulging in Indigenous works, understanding their history in Canada and acknowledging the land you live on. Read books, practice compassion towards the Indigenous peoples of Canada by recognizing what they have been put through, watch movies or read works on residential schools in Canada and how they affected Indigenous communities. Discover Indigenous artists, business owners and community members. Take an active part in learning and reflecting on what the day means.
Related: Indigenous author Tanya Talaga talks righting legacy wrongs in Canada.
Spread the word
There are many ways to raise awareness, from sharing with friends the events you are looking forward to attending on this day and encouraging them to join, to teaching the youth of your knowledge of Indigenous history in this land.
If you feel confident in your findings, it is important to teach others, mainly our younger generation, about the traumas Indigenous people have faced — and share with them ways we can do better now.
As the Orange Shirt Society points out when sharing “The Story or Orange Shirt Day,” spreading awareness and talking is part of the point of the day. “It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind. A discussion all Canadians can tune into and create bridges with each other for reconciliation. A day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those that have been affected. Every Child Matters, even if they are an adult, from now on.”
Read the 94 Calls to Action
After years of Indigenous-led activism, and more years of deliberation from the Canadian government, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued the 94 Calls to Action as a way of redressing the truth behind Canadian residential schools and stepping forward toward reconciliation.
The Calls to Action focus on child welfare, education, language and culture, health, justice, equity for Indigenous people in the legal system, apologies from the church and government, education for reconciliation and much more.
Reading these Calls to Action will help give you an understanding of the importance of reconciliation in Canada through the lens of Indigenous activists.
Related: 10 young Indigenous women leading the way for the next generation.
Donate to Indigenous-led organizations
If you have the means for it, donate to Indigenous-led organizations. Not sure where to look? The Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal People or the Native Women’s Association of Canada are all great places to start.
Acknowledge the land
You likely live on unceded land and do not know it. From the Maritimes to British Columbia and a number of spots of Ontario, including the capital (Ottawa), sit unceded territory — meaning the land was never given away by the Indigenous people during European settlement. It is important, now more than ever, that non-Indigenous peoples understand and acknowledge the land they live on through appropriate research and education. Tools like the “Native Land” map can be helpful resources to help you start.
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Indigenous history is Canadian history, and working together at understanding the problem will allow us to make a better future — for everyone. As we approach September 30, it’s time to consider what Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation signifies, why we support it and how you can respectfully honour the day.
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