September 30 is recognized across Canada as Orange Shirt Day to commemorate the children who were removed from their families and sent to residential schools where many became victims of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse and torture.
Orange Shirt Day serves as an important reminder of the legacy of residential schools, the generational trauma and systemic barriers still faced by First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities in what we call Canada today.
“Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to honour Indigenous lives and work to confront ongoing colonialism and violence against Indigenous communities,” said Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress.
The horrors of the residential school system are an important part of Canada’s colonial history. For unions, part of taking action on Orange Shirt Day includes recognizing that the legacy of residential schools is echoed in existing government policies, including the discriminatory practice of birth alerts, the over representation of Indigenous children in the foster care system, and the underfunding of child and family services on reserves.
“There is no erasing the experiences of the victims of residential schools and the ongoing generational impacts, we can only honour their memory by moving forward towards reconciliation,” said Rousseau. “That’s why we, as unions, have taken action to support Indigenous-led campaigns to address the systemic inequities and injustices faced by Indigenous communities, and push all levels of government to adopt the calls to action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report.”
Residential schools are estimated to have impacted the lives of at least 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children between 1880 to 1996. Approximately 80,000 survivors are still alive today.
“There is still a long way to go to ensure justice for Indigenous children in this country, but by taking part in Orange Shirt Day, unions can take a meaningful step in raising awareness of the legacy of residential schools and the work that lies ahead to combat racism and colonialism in this country,” said Rousseau. “In the midst of a global pandemic, we cannot and we won’t leave behind Indigenous children and their families. Every child matters.”
The trauma inflicted by residential schools has had far-reaching and devastating impacts on survivors, their families and Indigenous communities.
To learn more, visit these links:
- History of residential schools
- Video on Orange Shirt Day
- The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation online event for students and teachers on September 30
- CLC’s recommendations for the federal government on Indigenous rights