About a month ago, while watching the horrors unfold in Cananda as mass graves containing children and babies were unearthed on property once belonging to Catholic residential schools, I learned about Orange Shirt Day. We were unable to purchase official orange shirts from First Nations artists with enough time to ship them to Tennessee, but I found orange shirts that would allow us to participate and hopefully draw attention to cause.
The date, September 30th, is significant because this was the time of year when children were taken from their homes to residential schools, with the express purpose of being assimilated. The methods of assimilation were torture: violent abuse, disease infested surroundings, and absolute detachment from their way of life, families, and their mothers. There is no excuse. None whatsoever.
Canadians use this day as an opportunity to create anti-bullying and anti-racism policies for the upcoming year. It is also an opportunity for First Nations peoples, local governments, schools and entire communities to connect in the spirit of reconciliation – in the hope that in learning about the history of these practices they will not be repeated.
For clarity, this was not an historical act of trauma, but rather one where many of the survivors are still alive. This was happening during most of our lifetimes. The last residential school closed in 1996.
The irony of all of this effort is not lost on me. Here in the United States folx are trying to erase the history they find distasteful and to silence those who have dedicated themselves to shining a light on the truth. America is built on a bloody foundation of colonization, racism, and forced assimiliation. Many here in the United States believe that the residential schools that this country instituted could never have been as bad as those in Canada. Yet, unfortunately, the facts point to untold numbers of children both in the United States and Canada being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. These babies were mistreated, malnourished, and in many, many cases suffered from untreated disease and death. This was assimilation.
America was never great. It was just “new”, and shiny, and beautiful…
…and stolen, and awash in the blood of those that were deemed by those in power to be unworthy.
So today, we wear orange shirts. In solidarity with those communities that were traumatized by the privileged and the powerful. In memory of those lost. In memory of those broken. In hopes that we can become better by knowing the horrors we are capable of.
Today we wear orange shirts because the only way to affect change is to acknowledge the problem, the historical truth. We wear orange shirts because it is a tangible effort that allows us to join a community in rebuilding, in reconciliation. We wear orange because we dream of a more just world.
We wear orange shirts because EVERY CHILD MATTERS.
To learn more about Orange Shirt Day, visit http://www.orangeshirtday.org.
And don’t stop at wearing the tshirt. You can support these and other First Nation’s initiatives by:
- Finding First Nations artists, advocates, and activists on your social media outlets, and follow them, and VERY IMPORTANTLY, engage with and support them.
- Exploring the resources these remarkable people provide, do not ask them to relive their traumas so that you may be educated. Listen with an open mind and an open heart.
- Amplifying their voices.
- Challenging resource extraction and actively support land back movements.
- Joining in anti-colonial struggles.
- Purchasing your orange shirt from an indigenous artist, business, and/or organization.
- Reading the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Reading Phillis Webstad’s book “The Orange Shirt Story“.
Because when we know better, we can do better. We can be better.
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