Orange Shirt Day: What to know and what to do

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The Baron wishes to acknowledge that the land on which we work, study, and live is the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik peoples, who have been here since time immemorial. 

On Thursday, September 30, UNB will be closed to honour the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours survivors of residential schools and their families. It is the first of many to come and was implemented by the federal government this year in response to one of the 94 calls to action set forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Unfortunately, it was not taken up by New Brunswick as a provincial holiday. Here are some things you can do to commemorate the day.

Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day. (City News/Website)

Wear an orange shirt 

Students are encouraged to wear an orange shirt on both September 29 on-campus and September 30. The significance of orange shirts comes from Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor. She spoke out about her experiences in a residential school, recounting how on the first day, when she was just six years old, the orange shirt that had just been given to her by her grandmother was taken away. Orange shirts are now a symbol of identities taken from Indigenous students of residential and day schools. 

Write to your government officials

Take this time to research the TRC Calls to Action and ask your government representatives at all levels how they’re committing to implementing these recommendations. 

Learn about whose land you live on

The Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaq are members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. (Portland Press Herald/Website)

In New Brunswick, the land is the unceded territory of the Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaq peoples. If you want to learn about the traditional territory of other areas, visit native-land.ca.

Donate to an Indigenous cause

There are many important Indigenous organizations, groups, and charities that you can contribute to financially if you have the means. Here are some recommendations, though this is in no way an exhaustive list:

  • Indigenous Women’s Fund of Canada
  • Legacy of Hope Foundation
  • First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
  • The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund
  • Reconciliation Canada
  • Water First
  • Indspire
  • Indian Residential School Survivors Society
  • True North Aid
  • Native Women’s Association of Canada
  • Gignoo Transition House (Fredericton, N.B.)
  • Indigenous Women of the Wabanaki Territories (Fredericton, N.B.)
  • Under One Sky (Fredericton, N.B.)
  • Eastern Circle (Saint John, N.B.)

Do your research

Look into the different stories and resources that exist to learn more about the legacy of residential and day schools and other Indigenous issues. Here are just a few:

Books:

  • 21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph
  • Broken Circle by Theodore Fontaine
  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  • Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
  • Mamaskatch by Darrel McLeod
  • They Called Me Number One by Bev Stellars
  • Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal
  • Behind Closed Doors by Jack Agnes

Podcasts:

  • The Canadian Encyclopedia’s Residential Schools podcast series
  • Jade Roberts: Still Are Healing
  • Canadaland: Residential Schools
  • Backstory: CBC
  • The Secret Life of Canada: The Indian Act

Films:

  • My Legacy
  • Indian Horse
  • Inendi
  • We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
  • Holy Angels
  • Canada’s Dark Secret
  • We Were Children

Attend UNB’s event

Students and staff are encouraged to take part in the event being held on the UNB Fredericton campus on Thursday. (UNB/Website)

UNB has partnered with the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre in hosting an event called “Every Child Matters: Guiding Our Children Home”. Although the event is taking place on the Fredericton campus, students are encouraged to watch the live stream of the event, which can be accessed here. Furthermore, the UNB community will be writing tributes to add to the commemorative space. To make a contribution, contact the Mi’Kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre here

President Paul Mazerolle says this day “provides us an opportunity to reflect upon the role we can all play in advancing the values of peace and friendship across the university and the wider community. Events like these foster great awareness, understanding and respect as we commit to build a better future for all”. 

Initiatives on campus

(Wolfgang Duechtel/The Baron)

The crosswalk from the quad to the Athletics Centre has recently been painted to serve as a “constant reminder of the history and legacy of residential schools and day schools in Canada and serve as a way to honour the survivors, facilities, and communities,” Todd Ross, Indigenous advisor at UNB Saint John says. 

Orange serves as the base of the crosswalk and reflects the story of Phylis Webstad’s testimony of residential schools as mentioned above. Across the orange lay seven white feathers that represent the Seven Sacred Teachings. Ross stated that “…the teachings are wisdom, truth, humility, bravery, honesty, love, and respect and they help us live our lives in a holistic way with balance and harmony”. 

The idea of painting the crosswalk came from Sam Flewelling from the Student Health Centre who had seen the idea at another location. Ross worked alongside the Nikanahpat director of the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre and UNB Communications to design and implement the idea on both the Saint John and Fredericton Campuses. 

Ross says, “…the response from Indigenous Community members has been extremely positive and I am sure we will be seeing several more orange crosswalks across the country”. 

Students can also pick up an orange heart decal from the Commons, the Registrar’s Office or the Security Office to display as they wish as another means to honour the Indigenous children who were forced to attend residential and day schools. 

Do your part to recognize this important day

The “Every Child Matters: Guiding Our Children Home” event, the orange flags on campus, orange hearts in windows, students and faculty wearing orange shirts, and the Every Child Matters crosswalk will serve to remind us of “the harm caused to First Nation, Inuit and Metis children, families, and communities by Residential School Systems and the Day Schools” Ross noted. 

UNB is dedicated to Truth and Reconciliation according to their “UNB toward 2030” plan that can be found here, and in the Truth and Reconciliation Action Plan, located here. Students are encouraged to review these plans on Thursday. 

Vice President of UNB Saint John Dr. Petra Hauf stated that this day “…provides us an opportunity to reflect upon the role we can all play in advancing the values of peace and friendship across the university and the wider community,”.

More information

More information and resources on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, Orange Shirt Day, and how to be an Indigenous ally can be found here: