History

ORANGE SHIRT DAY - September 30

Orange Shirt Day | September 30
Orange Shirt Day | September 30

ORANGE SHIRT DAY | SEPTEMBER 30

On September 30, Orange Shirt Day promotes awareness about the Indian residential school system still impacting Native American communities in the United States and Canada. Known as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the day honors the children forced into Indian boarding schools. In addition, the day also remembers those who never returned home.

#OrangeShirtDay

Indian residential schools, once called American Indian boarding schools, were established in the early 19th century. The schools were developed as an assimilation model to teach Indian children Euro-American ways. Residential schools stripped Native American children of their culture, including their language, customs, music, and traditions.

Operated by Christian missionaries, the government forcibly removed Native American children from their homes and families. Because these institutions practiced corporal punishment, children who rebelled would often suffer brutal treatment. Unfortunately, recent investigations have revealed instances of sexual assault and mental abuse, all because they were Indian.

In 1879, Civil War veteran Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt built Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Eventually, 29 states would operate 367 schools in the United States. In 1978, the United States passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. The act gives Native American parents the legal right to deny placement of their children in schools off the reservations. However, some schools would continue to operate well into the 1970s, with the last school officially closing in the 1990s.

Some Native American children never returned home, while others were never heard from again. Most of their stories remain untold. Recent excavations unearthed remains of children on school properties in both Canada and the United States. Many of these graves have little or no record identifying the children and their tragic fates never reported until now. The process of returning the remains to their families illuminates an in-humane part of American history.

HOW TO OBSERVE ORANGE SHIRT DAY

Wear an orange shirt to show your support for those in the Native American community. Support those who did not escape the enduring impact of the trauma. Communities across the United States and Canada commemorate Orange Shirt Day by hosting memorials, candlelight vigils, and walks. Speakers offer a historical perspective to raise awareness.

Other ways to participate include:

  • Listen to the stories told by the survivors and their families.
  • Attend an event in your community.
  • Organize an Orange Shirt event at your work, school, or community.
  • Watch a documentary or movie. For example:
    • We Were Children, directed by Tim Wolochatiuk.
    • Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School, directed by Chip Richie, Dan Agent, Gayle Ross, and Carl Tipre.
    • Indian Horse, directed by Stephen S. Campanelli, adapted from the book by Wichard Wagamese.
  • Read about the Indian boarding schools. We recommend:

Join the conversation and show your support using #OrangeShirtDay on social media.

ORANGE SHIRT DAY HISTORY

Canadian Phyllis Jack Webstad created and inspired Orange Shirt Day in 2013. She is also the author of several books, including Phyllis’s Orange Shirt.

The observance spread into the United States, where events take place in communities across the country. In 2021, Canada proclaimed September 30 as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to recognize the survivors and those who died at the residential schools.