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The story behind Orange Shirt Day

Published October 02, 2018

Three women sit together, each wearing an orange item of clothing.
CHF Canada staff wearing orange for Orange Shirt Day.

Southwest of London, ON stands a stone monument with the known names of children who attended the Mount Elgin Industrial School, a residential school for First Nations children that operated from 1851 to 1946.

“It’s sometimes difficult to swallow,” said Tina Stevens, Aboriginal Director for CHF Canada. “At least ten of those names are people from my own family.”

While the current government ponders a proposed statutory holiday to recognize both the struggles and the successes of Indigenous people in this country, the story of Phyllis Jack has inspired a special day in the calendar already.

Phyllis Jack was six years old when she was sent to residential school. She was excited to go to school, and asked for a shiny, orange shirt she saw in a store to wear on her first day. When she arrived at the school, staff took all her clothes, including the orange shirt. She never saw it again. She was lonely, and the discipline was harsh. Today, she speaks publicly about her residential school experience.

September 30 has been declared Orange Shirt Day to help us all to remember the impact of the residential school system on so many families. Stevens believes housing co-op members should wear orange shirts to honour the reconciliation process. “This should not be ignored by Canadians,” she said. “So many people were impacted by the taking of children away from their families.”

If your co-op recognized Orange Shirt Day, please let us know by contacting Emily Doyle at edoyle@chfcanada.coop.


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