Orange Shirt Day: Take Action and Mourn

By Lorraine Rousseau

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation September 30th is a welcome day, a day to honour, remember and reflect on the circumstances that brought a National call to action. Over the years, many of us have been marking this day by showing up at work wearing orange shirts, orange ribbons pinned over our hearts, an orange scarf; somehow placing or fitting orange into a visible mark in recognition of those who survived or did not survive residential school.

Now, it’s a national holiday— but not for everybody.   

For years, Orange Shirt Day, on September 30, has been an opportunity to raise awareness and take action towards meaningful truth and reconciliation: work towards justice for victims, survivors and those lives lost at residential schools and their families. This year, it’s a much-needed day as our communities mourn the deaths of children who never made it home. The buried horrors of residential schools were well known to victims and survivors. With the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves, those horrors are not buried anymore.   

The true history of this land called Canada is not a secret anymore. Action, well overdue, must immediately be taken. Upon the discovery of Kamloop’s unmarked graves UN independent experts called for ‘full-fledged’ investigation: “The judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children, hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive.” Since June, thousands of children’s unmarked graves were found, in many locations deemed as residential school(s). 

The residential school system was, reportedly, operating between 1831 and 1997 (Kangiqtiniq/Rankin Inlet last known). Children were forcibly taken away from their families. Approximately 130 schools hosted over 150,000 children. Many of them were run by the Roman Catholic Church with the Canadian Government. Residential schools are not history. If you’re in the North and you’re not a residential school survivor, there are high chances your friend and/or a family member is. The atrocities haven’t only affected victims and survivors. Intergeneration trauma is a reality that Indigenous communities face across Canada.    

Indigenous families, friends and communities, need the time and space to mourn and heal. Non-Indigenous allies must hold, respect and create the space. But that’s not enough. Healing must be accompanied by governments’ commitment to walk on the path of truth and reconciliation. The truths of this genocide are not recorded and taught in mainstream school systems, reconciliation will not be truly addressed without the truth.

We recently had federal election. Implementing Truth and Reconciliation calls to action must be at the top of this government’s priorities. The North, and the rest of the country, deserve Members of Parliament that work to bring justice to victims and survivors of residential schools and their families. Our communities need Members of Parliament that work and collaborate across party lines towards Indigenous sovereignty and rights.

Residential schools are the darkest legacy of this land named Canada, but the present is not free from injustices. Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are still waiting for justice. Currently, there are 51 long-term drinking water advisories in effect in 32 communities. Access to safe drinking water is a human right. Food insecurity in the North and rural areas is largely impacting Indigenous communities. The foster care system, wherein Indigenous children are overly represented. The penal institutions wherein Indigenous peoples are overly represented, further Indigenous female populations are incredibly overly represented within incarcerations rates and institutions. And the list goes on.   

While it’s announced as a national federal holiday, many workers across Canada will not get the day off on September 30. Shockingly, a number of territorial and provincial governments serve as obstacles to having this day as a holiday for all workers and students. This day is an opportunity for everyone in Canada to learn more about Indigenous rights and history. Take action towards implementing Truth and Reconciliation calls to action nationally, regionally and within workplaces, schools and communities.   

There are events and workshops across the country organized by true Indigenous organizations to mark this day. Please carve out time to attend at least an event next week. Visit, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, for a list of virtual events that are accessible for the public.   

We are learning the truth of history, it’s our responsibility to take action in the present and help shape a better future. Let’s never be silent. Silence in the face of atrocities and genocide is being complacent in the face of prior decisions, the detriment of a nation. 

This article originally appeared in the Yellowknifer on September 20, 2021