by Matthew Levine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Three years ago on the 30th of September, the federal government established National
Truth and Reconciliation Day as a statutory holiday in Canada. Because Sept. 30 falls on a Saturday this year, Federal workers will have the day off on Monday. It is also a day off work for many civic governments and an optional day of work for several others. The purpose of this important day is to honour and acknowledge survivors and all those affected by the now abolished residential school system.
The holiday is also referred to as Orange Shirt Day. The name refers to the orange shirt that Phyllis Webstad, received from her grandmother before she was sent to residential school.
When she arrived at St Joseph’s Mission Residential School at age six, “They stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt!” explained Webstad, founder of Orange Shirt Day and a member of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. “I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine!”
“The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” said Webstad. “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
This year, the Orange Shirt Society held a design contest in order to create an “Every Child Matters” t-shirt to represent Indigenous children who were impacted by residential schools. The winner was Charliss Santos, a grade 10 student from Ponoka, AB. The design she created features an Indigenous child cradled between two hands and surrounded by people, and an eagle, forming the shape of a heart. The people in the design symbolize the tight-knit Indigenous communities, and the strength and support held within them. The eagle shown sheltering the child represents acceptance, honesty, and freedom. By shaping all of these features into a heart, Charliss painted the themes of love, healing, and forgiveness.