Orange Shirt Day

September 28, 2020 | Jamie

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Orange Shirt Day is September 30th every year. This day reminds us of one of the methods used to assimilate Indigenous communities to non-Indigenous ways. Indian Residential Schools were open for over 160 years, with the last one closing in 1996.

Orange Shirt Day began in 2013, after Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her experience of having her orange shirt taken away on her first day at an Indian Residential School at an Indian Residential School legacy and reunion event. Her story inspired the Orange Shirt Day movement.

As a Métis person, Orange Shirt Day is always a day mixed with sadness. Indigenous communities have lost knowledges and loved ones because of Indian Residential Schools. This gap created by the school system will continue to impact Indigenous communities for generations to come.

Despite Indian Residential Schools, Indigenous communities are still here, thriving, and telling their stories. We are more than what happened to us.

In the summer of 2021, the federal government of Canada received royal asset to create the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be on September 30, and will be a federal statutory holiday every year starting this year. You can read more about it in our blog post for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

To recognize this day, we are sharing some books in our collection to learn more about Indian Residential Schools and Orange Shirt Day. Within these books, you will learn stories of survival, of finding joy in the darkest of times, and resilience. 

Consider wearing an orange shirt on September 30th, and learning more about Indian Residential Schools with your family and friends.

*Note: Indigenous authors have their nation in brackets next to their name.


Books for Kids

Phyllis' Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad

Phyllis' Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad (Interior Salish, Secwepemc, and Stswecem'c Xgat'tem)

"Phyllis's Orange Shirt is an adaptation of The Orange Shirt Story which was the best selling children's book in Canada for several weeks in September 2018. This true story also inspired the movement of Orange Shirt Day which could become a federal statutory holiday. [...] This is both Phyllis Webstad's true story and the story behind Orange Shirt Day which is a day for us all to reflect upon the treatment of First Nations people and the message that 'Every Child Matters.'"

A Stranger At Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

A Stranger at Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuit)

This is the story "of a young girl's struggle to find her place" after returning home from 2 years at an Indian Residential School.

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuit)

This story is an "inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl's determination to confront her tormentor," based on a true story.

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad (Interior Salish, Secwepemc, and Stswecem'c Xgat'tem)

"When Phyllis Webstad (nee Jack) turned six, she went to the residential school for the first time. On her first day at school, she wore a shiny orange shirt that her Granny had bought for her, but when she got to the school, it was taken away from her and never returned. This is the true story of Phyllis and her orange shirt. It is also the story of Orange Shirt Day."

Speaking Our Truth - A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith (Sioux, Lakota, and Cree)

"This nonfiction book examines how we can foster reconciliation with Indigenous people at individual, family, community and national levels."

Spirit Bear : Honouring Memories  Planting Dreams by Cindy Blackstock

Spirit Bear: Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams by Cindy Blackstock (Gitxsan), illustrated by Amanda Strong (Métis)

Spirit Bear is on his way home from a sacred ceremony when he meets Jake, a friendly dog, with a bag full of paper hearts attached to wood stakes. Jake tells Spirit Bear that school children and residential school survivors will plant the hearts when a big report on residential schools called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC for short) is shared. The TRC will have Calls to Action so we can all help end the unfairness and make sure this generation of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children grow up healthy and proud!

Books for Teens

Orange Shirt Day - September 30th by Orange Shirt Society

Orange Shirt Day: September 30th by the Orange Shirt Society

"This book provides the necessary resources  and sparks a passion for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals to make a difference moving forward."

Back to the Red Road - A Story of Survival  Redemption and Love by Florence Kaefer and Edward Gamblin

Back to the Red Road: A Story of Survival, Redemption and Love by Florence Kaefer and Edward Gamblin (Cree)

This is the story of a teacher and a student at an Indian Residential School. "The story of their personal reconciliation is both heartfelt and heartbreaking as Edward begins to share his painful truths with his family, Florence, and the media. Three years after Edward's death in 2010, Florence has continued to advocate for truth and reconciliation. Back To The Red Road is more than one man's story: it is the story of our nation and how healing can begin, one friendship, one apology at a time."

Broken Circle - The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools - A Memoir by Theodore Fontaine

Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir by Theodore Fontaine (Sagkeeng Anishinaabeg)

This is a true story, "told as remembrances described with insights that have evolved through his healing, his story resonates with his resolve to help himself and other residential school survivors and to share his enduring belief that one can pick up the shattered pieces and use them for good."

7 Generations - A Plains Cree Saga by David Robertson

7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga by David Alexander Robertson (Swampy Cree)

"Edwin is facing an uncertain future. Only by learning about his family's past  - as warriors, survivors of a smallpox epidemic, casualties of a residential school - will he be able to face the present and embrace the future. 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga follows one Indigenous family over three centuries and seven generations. [...] Originally published as a four-part graphic novel series; Stone, Scars, Ends/Begins, and The Pact.

Betty - The Helen Betty Osborne Story by David Robertson

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story by David Alexander Robertson (Swampy Cree)

"Helen Betty Osborne, known as Betty to her closest friends and family, dreamed of becoming a teacher. She left home to attend residential school and later moved to The Pas, Manitoba, to attend high school. On November 13, 1971, Betty was abducted and brutally murdered by four young men. Initially met with silence and indifference, her tragic murder resonates loudly today. Betty represents one of almost 1,200 Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing. This is her story."

Sugar Falls by David Robertson

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story by David Alexander Robertson (Swampy Cree)

"A school assignment to interview a residential school survivor leads Daniel to Betsy, his friend's grandmother, who tells him her story. Abandoned as a young child, Betsy was soon adopted into a loving family. A few short years later, at the age of 8, everything changed. Betsy was taken away to a residential school. There she was forced to endure abuse and indignity, but Betsy recalled the words her father spoke to her at Sugar Falls -- words that gave her the resilience, strength, and determination to survive. Sugar Falls is based on the true story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation. We wish to acknowledge, with the utmost gratitude, Betty's generosity in sharing her story."

On the Side of Angels by Jose Kusugak

On the Side of the Angels by Jose Kusugak (Inuit), illustrated by Hwei Lim

Jose Kusugak had a typical Arctic childhood, growing up playing games, enjoying food caught by hunters, and watching his mother preparing skins. But he was one of the first generation of Inuit children who were taken from their homes and communities and sent to live in residential schools. In this moving and candid memoir, Jose tells of his experiences at residential school and the lifelong effects it had on him.

Books for Adults

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good (Plains Cree, Red Pheasant Cree Nation)

"Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn't want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission."

Beyond the Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad

Beyond the Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad (Interior Salish, Secwepemc and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem)

Beyond the Orange Shirt Story is a unique collection of truths, as told by Phyllis Webstad's family and others, that will give readers an up-close look at what life was like before, during, and after their Residential School experiences. In this book, Survivors and Intergenerational Survivors share their stories authentically and in their own words. Phyllis Webstad is a Residential School Survivor and founder of the Orange Shirt Day movement. Phyllis has carefully selected stories to help Canadians educate themselves and gain a deeper understanding of the impacts of the Residential School System. Readers of this book will become more aware of a number of challenges faced by many Indigenous peoples in Canada. With this awareness comes learning and unlearning, understanding, acceptance, and change. Phyllis's hope is that all Canadians honour the lives and experiences of Survivors and their families as we go Beyond the Orange Shirt Story.

Pathways of Reconciliation - Indigenous and Settler Approaches to Implementing the TRC's Calls to Action by Aimée Craft and Paulette Regan

Pathways of Reconciliation: Indigenous and Settler Approaches to Implementing the TRC's Calls to Action by Aimée Craft (Anishinaabe-Métis) and Paulette Regan

"The essays in Pathways of Reconciliation address the themes of reframing, learning and healing, researching, and living. They engage with different approaches to reconciliation (within a variety of reconciliation frameworks, either explicit or implicit) and illustrate the complexities of the reconciliation process itself. They canvass multiple and varied pathways of reconciliation, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, reflecting a diversity of approaches to the mandate given to all Canadians by the TRC with its Calls to Action."

Aboriginal People, Resilience and the Residential School Legacy by Madeleine Dion Stout (Cree)

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Volume One - Summary by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 1: Summary: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"This is the Final Report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its six-year investigation of the residential school system for Aboriginal youth and the legacy of these schools. This report, the summary volume, includes the history of residential schools, the legacy of that school system, and the full text of the Commission's 94 recommendations for action to address that legacy."

A Knock on the Door - The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

A Knock On The Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Between 2008 and 2015, the TRC provided opportunities for individuals, families, and communities to share their experiences of residential schools and released several reports based on 7000 survivor statements and five million documents from government, churches, and schools, as well as a solid grounding in secondary sources. A Knock on the Door, published in collaboration with the National Research Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, gathers material from the several reports the TRC has produced to present the essential history and legacy of residential schools in a concise and accessible package that includes new materials to help inform and contextualize the journey to reconciliation that Canadians are now embarked upon."

Canada's Residential Schools. The History  Part 1 - Origins to 1939 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - The History, Part 1: Origins to 1939 by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 1, Origins to 1939 places Canada's residential school system in the historical context of European campaigns to colonize and convert Indigenous people throughout the world."

Canada's Residential Schools. The History  Part 2 - 1939 to 2000 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - The History, Part 2: 1939 to 2000 by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 2, 1939 to 2000 carries the story of the residential school system from the end of the Great Depression to the closing of the last remaining schools in the late 1990s."

Canada's Residential Schools. The Inuit and Northern Experience by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - The Inuit and Northern Experience by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience demonstrates that residential schooling followed a unique trajectory in the North."

Canada's Residential Schools. The Métis Experience by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - The Métis Experience by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: The Métis Experience focuses on an often-overlooked element of Canada's residential school history. Canada's residential school system was a partnership between the federal government and the churches. Since the churches wished to convert as many Aboriginal children as possible, they had no objection to admitting Métis children."

Canada's Residential Schools. Reconciliation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - Reconciliation by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: Reconciliation documents the complexities, challenges, and possibilities of reconciliation by presenting the findings of public testimonies from residential school Survivors and others who participated in the TRC's national events and community hearings."

Canada's Residential Schools. The Legacy by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - The Legacy by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: The Legacy describes what Canada must do to overcome the schools' tragic legacy and move towards reconciliation with the country's first peoples."

Canada's Residential Schools. Missing Children and Unmarked Burials by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada's Residential Schools - Missing Children and Unmarked Burials by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials is the first systematic effort to record and analyze deaths at the schools, and the presence and condition of student cemeteries, within the regulatory context in which the schools were intended to operate. As part of its work the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada established a National Residential School Student Death Register. Due to gaps in the available data, the register is far from complete. Although the actual number of deaths is believed to be far higher, 3,200 residential school victims have been identified. The analysis also demonstrates that residential school death rates were significantly higher than those for the general Canadian school-aged population."

Updates:

August 23, 2021: Edited for formatting. 

September 1, 2021: Edited to fix link.

September 21, 2021: Updated to include information about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is a new statutory holiday beginning on September 30, 2021. Also added three more books to the reading list: Spirit Bear: Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams by Cindy Blackstock, On the Side of Angels by Jose Kusugak, and Beyond the Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad.

September 27, 2021: Added sentence and link to blog post about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

September 28, 2021: Fixed a broken link.

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