Orange Shirt Day 2021 & National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Please note that this post speaks about residential schools and the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. At Redefining Traditional, we acknowledge that the land in which we work from at the The University of Toronto has been, for thousands of years, the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. Learn more about which lands you may reside on at and their histories, visit:   or 

Here in Canada, September 30th, we commemorate Orange Shirt Day, a day intended to raise awareness on the centuries long impact Canada’s Residential School System has had on Indigenous communities, knowledge, traditions, and beyond. Orange Shirt day comes from the experience of Phyllis Webstad (Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation), who was six-years-old when she first arrived to a residential school. On her first day of arriving at the school she was stripped of her new orange shirt. You can learn more about Phyllis’s story and the importance of the orange shirt here:   

Illustration of an orange shirt with a blue background. The shirt reads "Every Child matters' on it
Sourced from:

Phyllis’s story represents the legacy of colonial violence in Canada, the thousands of children forcibly removed from their lands, home, families, ties to culture and support – both survivors and those who never came home. It’s also important to acknowledge the impact residential schools and colonial violence has on generations that followed, and are still very much present in our world today. Orange Shirt Day honors these lives, while also centering the importance of honoring indigenous history, culture, resilience, futures, and the importance of reconciliation. This is especially significant as the sites of former residential schools continue to be searched, the thousands of children’s bodies that have been found to-date, and the justice that must follow. 

The Government of Canada has marked September 30th as the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. Although it is recognized as a federal holiday, this is also an important opportunity to reflect on how we continually work in allyship with Indigenous communities. We recognize that to truly honour the lives of lost children and survivors of the residential school system and Indigenous communities of Canada, the journey of reconciliation extends beyond this day. It takes engaging with indigenous knowledge, stories, resources, and reflecting on our own positionality in the worlds we are in.

And orange and white graphic from the Government of Canada with imagery of animals & elements connecting with one another. It reads "National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, September 30th"
Sourced from:

As non-indigenous folx in Canada we must continue to (un)learn & move towards reconciliation in solidarity with indigenous communities, it’s also important to understand this is all a journey. We all come from different places in the world, knowledge of others histories, and have our own personal lived experiences.  

This Orange Shirt Day, we invite you to read a reflection from Redefining Traditional Team Member Yusur Al-Salman, along with resources to support all of our journeys moving forward. We encourage others on our community to share resources, their thoughts, and more in the comments below.  

Reflecting this Orange Shirt Day from Redefining Traditional 

While the institutional legacies of violence and displacement drove my family out of our homeland, my immigration to Canada in 2020 made me complicit in these legacies as well. So in attempting to understand my responsibilities and relationship with the land and its Indigenous communities, I continuously listen to the voices of Indigenous people across Turtle Island who have long been silenced under the weight of inter-generational trauma and state violence. One such voice was Phyllis Webstad’s.  

I watched this video earlier this week. As straight-forward as the story of the Orange Shirt Day was, the same cannot be said about the road that led to it, nor about the path of Phyllis’ life since. It is a moment of paramount importance; of immense sanctity; when a survivor of a violent experience chooses to take their traumatic memory, the one that stood as a lump in their throat and haunted them for years and years and decide to share it with the world. In exposing that vulnerability, Phyllis paves the way through bravery and resilience that leaves us with a lot to learn.  

I was stopped by one thing she said, of relevance to this platform in particular; “Every child matters, even if you are an adult. Phyllis here is acknowledging the scared, traumatised child that Indigenous adults carry with them for the rest of their life. Parents tread carefully around the traumas they grow up with, the fears they cultivated, the dreams that got crushes early on – and they wish to spare their children every such moment. Yet Indigenous children who went through what’s a parents worst nightmare, the residential school experience, never having had the option of resorting to the protection of their families, and in some cases, never returning home.  

As a platform concerned with parenting and education, Orange Shirt Day opens the door for many reflective questions about our roles as educators and as learners, in our small family units and in our bigger communities. The journeys in which we learn, unlearn and navigate reconciliation and decolonization will always be different from one another, but the immense importance of centering & uplifting indigenous communities, and taking time to understand the histories on these lands, remains.”  

Continuing this Journey & Reflection:  

If you’d like to explore some resources on how to continue this journey, feel free  to explore some of the resources below:  

Additional Opportunities for Orange Shirt Day & Beyond:  

  • Wear Orange on September 30th and engage with others about the significance of this day
  • Read books by Indigenous authors & engage in educational opportunities   
  • Review the 94 Truth and Reconciliation calls to action and commit to at least one 
  • Watch online events hosted by local indigenous organizations, or the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation  
  • Connect with local indigenous organizations (cultural centers, land & water protectors, youth groups, services, etc.) – and support them however you can 
  • Learn more about the story of Orange Shirt Day and how you can support: 
  • Read Phyllis Webstad’s book “The Orange Shirt Story”, and begin to engage in the history of residential schools 
  • Engage in events and resources during Truth & Reconciliation Week at the at the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation:  
  • Engage with resources from the Woodland Cultural Centre, an organization that hosts events, culture resources, and the “Save the Evidence” initiative in Ontario:  
  • Plan vacations that centre indigenous businesses & supports communities:  
  • Think about shopping with indigenous creators in mind: 

Additional Posts by Redefining Traditional:   

0 comments on “Orange Shirt Day 2021 & National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *