'Every child matters': Orange Shirt Day goes virtual amid COVID-19
TORONTO -- The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation held a virtual event to mark Orange Shirt Day Wednesday, marking the experiences of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children in residential schools.
The event, held on Facebook, featured several First Nations, Metis and Inuit residential school survivors speaking of their experiences.
“We are here to learn about this dark history, but to show the survival, the resilience, the courage and the love that our communities have for our children,” Elder Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinabe from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, said in the video.
Orange Shirt Day is named in memory of Phyllis Webstad’s favourite shirt, one she wore and had taken away from her on her first day at a residential school in 1973. Webstad has since published two books, the "Orange Shirt Story" and "Phyllis's Orange Shirt,” aimed at educating children about the residential school system and Indigenous history.
“It’s a story that people can grab onto and relate to, and helps us to really start to think about what happened in residential school and what we can do to repair those harms,” said Beauchamp.
Orange Shirt Day started as a local event in Webstad’s community of Williams Lake, B.C., but has since expanded across Canada.
Despite the event being held virtually in light of COVID-19, Beauchamp says a record number of attendees signed up for the event.
“There are literally over 100,000 teachers who have signed up for this today, which equates to about half a million people participating,” Jerome Beauchamp, president of the Orange Shirt Society, told CTV News Channel
On Tuesday, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault introduced legislation in the House of Commons to establish Orange Shirt Day as a statutory holiday.
Creating such a statutory holiday was one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which probed the history and legacy of residential schools. The Liberal government introduced similar legislation in February 2019, but the bill died in the Senate when the last federal election was called.