Orange Shirt Day: Phyllis’s Residential School Story

Orange Shirt Day takes place in Canada on September 30. This annual event honours survivors of Canada’s residential schools. The orange shirt represents the indigenous child whose everyday life was stripped away.

Phyllis Webstad was six years old in 1973 when she chose a bright, new orange shirt to wear for her first day of school. When she arrived at the residential school in Williams Lake, BC, her orange shirt (a gift from her granny) was stripped off and she never saw it again. Phyllis was devastated and she felt worthless. Those feelings remained with her into adulthood, and the colour orange has always reminded her of that pain.

When Phyllis began sharing the story of her first day of school as part of her healing process, the idea for Orange Shirt Day caught on. Since 2013, many schools and businesses across Canada have taken part in this day to acknowledge the pain and harm caused to First Nations children through the residential school system.

We hope you’ll share Phyllis’s story with your students and encourage them to wear orange on the last day of school in September. If you teach intermediate to advanced students, you may want to try our Historic Events lesson about Residential Schools to learn more about what children like Phyllis went through. Your students can also listen to the podcast preview on our blog.

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