Every Child Matters

The History of Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day happens every year on September 30th. It began as a way to honour all of the Indigenous children that attended residential schools in Canada. It has since become an opportunity to educate and remember the tragedy of residential schools and the cruel circumstances that Indigenous children experienced.

Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children from all across the country from 1828 – 1996 were taken away from their homes, stripped of their language, families, and culture by these church-run schools in Canada in a failed attempt to assimilate them.

Why is Orange Shirt Day in September?

Orange Shirt Day falls on September 30 as this is the time of year children were taken away to residential schools. Some of them returned home for the summers, but some had no other option but to stay there year-round.

The colour Orange was chosen as a result of the experiences of residential school survivor, Phyllis Webstad. Phyllis was only 6 years old when she was sent to St Joseph’s Mission residential school in British Columbia from 1973-1974. Her grandmother had taken her to the store and bought her a brand new shiny orange shirt to wear to school. Phyllis was so excited to wear it to school. However, when Phyllis arrived, she was stripped of her clothing and never saw her orange shirt again. She was neglected, abused, and made to feel like she didn’t matter. She wasn’t allowed to go home for 300 sleeps. She recalls that every child there was crying to go home, but nobody at the school truly cared for them. They were made to feel alone, worthless, and like nobody would save them. Phyllis says that the colour Orange now reminds her of that time in her life where her feelings didn’t matter. Phyllis’ story is a difficult one to hear, and unfortunately it is like many others that attended residential schools.

Fortunately, Phyllis was able to return home to her grandmother after that year. As the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society, she now uses her story and platform to raise awareness about Orange Shirt Day, and turn the feeling of no one cares into healing and remembrance that every child matters.

The experiences at residential schools shaped the generations that have since come after them. While there is still a long way to go, Orange Shirt Day is a step towards recognition and healing for countless Indigenous people.


“What I want for the future generations, the seven generations coming up, is to get back their language, culture and ceremonies. Because that’s basically what the residential schools took away from all us kids that went there. We want them to be aware of these schools and what happened, they should always remember these residential schools and what happened so that none of these schools can ever come in existence again.” –Geronimo Henry, Mohawk Institute Survivor


Save The Evidence Campaign

Save the Evidence was a campaign to raise awareness and support for the restoration of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School, and to develop the building into an Interpreted Historic Site and Educational Resource. As a site of conscience, the final goal is to create a fully-realized Interpretive Centre that will be the definitive destination for information about the history of Residential Schools in Canada, the experiences of Survivors of the schools, and the impact that the Residential School system has had on our communities.

In March 2022, we announced that the funds have been successfully raised for the final phase of the campaign! To learn more about the history of the campaign and read our final e-newsletter, click here. Nya:węh Go:wah to all our incredible supporters; we couldn’t have done this without you.


Survivors and Intergenerational Survivors Services

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing pain or distress as a result from their past experiences with residential schools, we urge you to please call the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and available 24 hours a day.

You can also call the Crisis Line to get information on other health supports provided by the Health Canada Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program.


What Can You Do To Help?

These are suggestions Woodland Cultural Centre are providing for you to take action!

1. Read the 94 Calls To Action provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

You can find the Calls to Action here and also visit the TRC website for many additional resources regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Report.

Click Here for a child-friendly educational resource about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action provided by The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society.


2. Educate Yourself About Indigenous Culture

Residential schools are part of Indigenous history but it is not part of Indigenous culture. Educate yourself on the peoples’ culture of the traditional territory you live on. Listen, watch, and read!


3. Educate Yourself About the History of Residential Schools

Woodland Cultural Centre provides numerous resources about residential schools, including our monthly public virtual tour of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School.

We also recommend checking out the Witness Blanket, by artist Carey Newman, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the documentary, Picking Up The Pieces, that Newman created to go along with the project.


4. Sharing The History

As much as it’s important to educate yourself, what you do with that information is also important. Share the history with your family, friends, workplaces, service organizations, and faith groups! These conversations can be difficult to have but they are essential. We need to ensure that future generations of children are being properly educated on Indigenous history and culture.


5. Support Indigenous Communities, Like Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, in Their Journey of Truth and Reconciliation

A donation can go a long way for these communities!


What Can You Do To Support Woodland Cultural Centre?

1. Make a one-time or monthly donation & receive a charitable tax receipt

Click the link here to make a donation to Woodland Cultural Centre.


2. Attend Our Public Virtual Tour

On the third Wednesday of every month, WCC hosts a public virtual tour screening of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School. This will help you learn firsthand about the history of Residential Schools in Canada. Click Here to register for our next virtual tour.


3. Host a Fundraising Event

By planning your own fundraiser for the Woodland Cultural Centre, you are supporting the revitalization and celebration of Hodinohsho:ni culture, language, history, and art. We’re here to help make sure your fundraiser is successful! We can provide tax receipts, letters of support, marketing materials, promotion of your event and much more. Reach out to development@woodlandculturalcentre.ca for more information.

Third Party Fundraiser Registration Form


4. Tag Us In a Picture of You In Your Orange Shirt So We Can Spread Awareness

We love engaging with our community on social media so please tag us in pictures of you in your Orange Shirts.

Follow us on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest 


Looking to book a private virtual tour screening of the Mohawk Institute Residential School?

All inquires regarding booking tours can be sent to tours@woodlandulturalcentre.ca