Just after her 6th birthday, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad remembers her granny buying her a new outfit for her first day of school at the Mission Residential School. She picked out an orange shirt that laced up in the front. She thought the shirt was bright and exciting, just like how she thought her first day of school was going to be. Little did she know that upon arrival she would be forced to remove her new outfit and never given the chance to wear her new orange shirt again.
Nowadays, when Phyllis sees the colour orange, she is flooded with horrible memories from her time at the Mission school - feelings of “worthlessness, insignificance, and [not feeling like she matters].”
September 30 is Orange Shirt Day, a national movement that recognizes the resiliency and strength of the residential schools survivors and commemorates the residential school experience. It also honours the healing journey of the survivors and their families and is an opportunity for all of us to commit to the ongoing process of truth and reconciliation.
“Wearing an orange shirt is an acknowledgement of the significant harm caused by residential schools,” says Cheryl Ward, executive director, Indigenous Health. “The challenging work of reconciliation begins when non-Indigenous Canadians take responsibility for educating themselves about Canada’s colonial legacy.”
Understanding the history and the significant legacy of colonialism is critical to transforming relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens. According to Cheryl, “a better future is possible” and its starts with knowing the truth about our country’s history.
The first Orange Shirt day was held in 2013 in Williams Lake, where Phyllis resides. The day has now grown and spread across the country to represent all the survivors of residential schools. With over 80,000 first-generation survivors living in communities across the country, it is the responsibility of all of us to honour and stand with them. Orange Shirt Day sheds light on not only the experiences of residential school survivors but brings attention to the crucial education on Indigenous history that every Canadian needs.
“Wearing orange on September 30 supports a movement to break the cycle of silence around residential schools,” says Rochelle Lesueur, operations lead, Indigenous Health at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre and BC Children's Hospital. “Supporting Orange Shirt Day shows survivors and their families you care about their journey of healing and wellness.”
- PHSA Indigenous Health supports programs and services in a collective approach to providing safer and more equitable care for Indigenous patients.
- The first of its kind in Canada, San’yas Indigenous cultural safety training aims to improve the safety and quality of health services Indigenous people receive, acting as an educational bridge to transform attitudes, behaviours and practice in health care.
- BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre's Indigenous Health program provides both on-site and outreach services to improve the health of Indigenous women and their families.
- Perinatal Services BC provides leadership, planning and implementation in collaboration with Indigenous Health tripartite partners to improve access to maternity services for Indigenous women.
- Chee Mamuk is a provincial Indigenous health program led by the BC Centre for Disease Control that provides innovative and culturally appropriate sexually transmitted infection (STI) and HIV education, resources and wise practice models.
- The Centre for Aboriginal Health is one of PHSA's eight centres for Population & Public Health. Currently, the Aboriginal Centre supports projects in three communities that demonstrate culturally appropriate community lead collaboration focused on spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and cultural health and wellness initiatives.
- BC Cancer, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), Métis Nation British Columbia, and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres are working collaboratively to better understand the Indigenous cancer journey, and have been engaging with Indigenous cancer patients, survivors and families from throughout the province. This engagement has informed the development of a joint Indigenous Cancer Strategy titled Improving Indigenous Cancer Journeys in BC: A Road Map.
- BC Cancer’s mobile breast screening service visits over 170 communities, including many First Nations communities.
- Since the program was created, Trans Care BC has been engaging with various Indigenous communities around their work in gender-affirming care. The program has focused on centring trans and gender diverse Two-Spirit voices.
- Tuberculosis (TB) services for Indigenous communities is a program component of the FNHA's community health and wellness services.
The Vancouver office where this article was written is located on the unceded traditional and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.