Specs of orange will be visible around Canada Thursday, and not just in the changing leaves. The day marks Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a statutory holiday to acknowledge the impacts of the government-funded residential school system on Indigenous peoples, which Canadians will mark by wearing orange. An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit youth were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools, where more than 4,100 ultimately died, from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1997, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented the impacts and trauma from 2008 to 2015, per the CBC.
The commission had recommended that a day of reconciliation be established. It was finally approved by Parliament last year amid a national reckoning over the legacy of residential schools, triggered by the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves. The date chosen, Sept. 30, a time when youth would return to school, is also known as Orange Shirt Day. It was inspired by Phyllis Webstad of the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation, who wrote a children's book about her experience being stripped of the new, orange shirt her grandmother had bought her as she arrived at a residential school in British Columbia as a 6-year-old in 1973.
"It is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations," the federal government says, per Global News. Parents could be denied food if they failed to send their children to these schools, "where the mere speaking of one's native language invited physical punishment," per the National Post. "Clothes were removed and burned, hair was sheared off," the outlet adds. "We were told we were little, stupid savages, and that they had to educate us," survivor Elaine Durocher told the commission.
For Webstad, reconciliation is still a far-off goal. "The truth comes first," she tells the CBC, "and the truth is not finished being told." Today, Indigenous people remain "among the most disadvantaged and marginalized members of Canadian society," federal judge Paul Favel wrote Wednesday in upholding a 2019 ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that ordered the federal government to pay the equivalent of about $31,500 to each Indigenous child removed from their homes while the government discriminated against them by underfunding child and family services on reserves, per the Guardian. (Read more Canada stories.)