Learn About Orange Shirt Day - Educational Series

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The Children Who Did Not Make it Home

Residential School students stand outside the former Mount Elgin Industrial School in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation

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The announcements of unmarked graves located at the site of former Residential Schools across Canada have come as devastating news to all Canadians.

While the news has shocked the world, it has not been surprising to Residential School survivors who for many years have spoken of the atrocities that Indigenous children suffered at the hands of Residential Schools staff. Survivors have always spoken about the children who did not make it home and the possibility of unmarked graves on the grounds of Residential Schools.

Currently, over 10,000 unmarked graves have been found near the sites of former Residential Schools across Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report initially estimated that at least 6,000 children sent to Residential Schools died due to abuse, overcrowding, malnourishment, neglect, poor health, or by running away. However, approximately 10 percent of former Residential School sites have been searched to date, indicating that this estimate will soon be exceeded. It is unlikely that we will ever know the true number of children who did not make it home.

The announcement of each confirmed grave site is heartbreaking. There are still thousands of Indigenous children waiting to be found at the sites of former Residential Schools across Canada. As communities continue their search for potential grave sites, please keep in mind that this is traumatic and emotionally devastating.

Orange Shirt Day and September 30

Phyllis (Jack) Webstad

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Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential Schools Commemoration Project, which was held in Williams Lake, B.C., in May 2013.

The week-long commemoration was inspired by Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, who had a vision of bringing all people together to remember and learn about what happened at St. Joseph’s Missions Residential School and honour the survivors.

The events were designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.

As part of the commemoration project, former Residential School student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad spoke about her experience. On her first day at the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School at six-years old, Phyllis proudly wore a brand-new orange shirt that her grandmother had bought her.

When she arrived at the Residential School, the staff at the school stripped her, took her new orange shirt and made her wear a uniform. From that day forward, the colour orange reminded Phyllis of the trauma she endured at the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School and how it made her feel like she did not matter.

Through Phyllis’ story along with the efforts of Chief Fred Robbins and countless others, Orange Shirt Day was born and the orange shirt became a symbol of resilience, hope and commitment to a better future where every child matters.

The orange shirt is worn on September 30th to recognize and honour the survivors of Residential Schools and those who did not make it home.

September 30th was chosen as the date for Orange Shirt Day because it represents the time of year when Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families to attend Residential Schools.

What Were Residential Schools?

Mount Elgin Industrial School in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation

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Prior to the creation of the Residential School system, Indigenous families were able to pass on their cultural identity and customs to their children using traditional methods.

The Canadian Government started Residential Schools in the 1880’s to intentionally strip Indigenous people of their culture and their traditions, forcing them to assimilate into a Euro-Canadian way of life.

Children who were sent to Residential Schools were often treated very poorly and received an education that focused mainly on prayer and manual labour. They were severely punished for breaking rules, acknowledging their Indigenous heritage or speaking their own language. Survivors have spoken about horrible acts of physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse at the hands ofChristian Priests, nuns and Residential School staff.

The Residential School system was cultural genocide because of the deliberate attempt from the Canadian Government to erase all aspects of Indigenous culture and heritage from Canada. There were 139 government-sponsored Residential Schools across Canada, with the last one closing as recently as 1996.

The Impact of Residential Schools

The Mohawk Institute in Brantford Ontario

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The Residential School system completely disrupted the way of life for First Nations, Métis and Inuit families. It nearly destroyed how Indigenous culture is traditionally taught and caused a loss of language and culture among Indigenous people.

The trauma created by Residential Schools has had lasting effects that continue to impact Indigenous families and communities to this day. Intergenerational trauma impacts Indigenous people who may not have been former students of Residential Schools.

Although the Residential School system tried to remove Indigenous people, their cultures and their traditions from Canada, Indigenous cultures, languages and ceremonies are being revitalized because of the resilience of Indigenous people and communities.

Residential School Facts

The Mount Elgin Industrial School memorial in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation

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  • Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended Canadian Residential Schools.
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission initially estimated that at least 6,000 of the Indigenous children sent to Residential Schools died due to abuse, overcrowding, malnourishment, neglect, poor health, or by running away. However, this estimate will soon be surpassed, as approximately 10 percent of former Residential Schools have been searched for unmarked graves to date.
  • There were 139 Government-sponsored Residential Schools across Canada.
  • Residential Schools opened in 1831 and the last one closed as recently as 1996.
  • In 1920, the Canadian Government changed the Indian Act to require Indigenous children to attend Residential Schools.
  • The early to mid 1900’s saw a big increase in the number of Residential Schools across Canada, which meant that even more children were taken from their families and communities during this time.
  • Many of Residential Schools were located in isolated locations across the country as an intentional strategy to remove children from their parental and cultural influences.
  • There were two Residential Schools in Southern Ontario – Mount Elgin Industrial School in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and the Mohawk Institute in Brantford.
  • As of 2015, it was estimated that there were over 80,000 survivors of the Canadian Residential School System.


To learn more about Orange Shirt Day, please explore these websites:




To learn more about Residential Schools you can also visit:

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website: https://nctr.ca/

Connect With Us

We encourage the entire Thames Valley community to commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by wearing orange on September 30 and by creating learning opportunities to discuss Residential Schools throughout the week. Connect with us online and show us how you are honouring the survivors of Residential Schools and the children who never made it home by using the hashtags #EveryChildMatters, #OrangeShirtDay and #TVDSB.

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