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The slogan for Orange Shirt Day – Every Child Matters – is a declaration that no matter how much they were ignored and dismissed during Canada’s residential school era, the lives of Indigenous children matter.

The unofficial day has been observed since 2013 and is called Orange Shirt Day in memory of a piece of clothing then-six-year-old Phyllis Webstad had taken from her on her first day at a residential school in 1973.

The former Mission, B.C. residential school student had gone to school wearing a brand new bright orange T-shirt from her grandmother. When Webstad got to school, educators forced her to remove the clothing in favour of mandatory uniforms.

“When my clothing, including my new orange shirt, was taken, it didn’t matter how much I protested or told them (the nuns and priests) I wanted it back, they didn’t listen,” said Webstad during an online launch for the book Beyond the Orange Shirt in September 2021. “This was the beginning of that feeling that I didn’t matter. We could be crying, we could be hungry, we could be sad, we could be lonely and our feelings did not matter. That’s where ‘Every Child Matters’ comes from. They were children. They mattered. And the ones who never made it home; they mattered. And in this day of reconciliation, every child matters.”

In 2017, Georgina Jolibois, an NDP MP from Saskatchewan, sought to make Orange Shirt Day an official holiday focused on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and introduced a private member’s bill.

September 30th has now been made a federal government holiday in Canada, called Truth and Reconciliation Day.


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