Orange Shirt Day began as a grassroots effort in 2013 to raise awareness of residential schools in a campaign commonly referred to as “Orange Shirt Day – Every Child Matters.” The orange shirt originates from the story of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. At six years old, Phyllis’ grandmother purchased a shiny orange shirt for Phyllis to wear to her first day of school. This shirt, symbolizing Phyllis’ bright and excited feelings, was taken away upon arrival at the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school in Williams Lake, BC. The date, September 30th, was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies and action for the coming year.
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013. These events brought together former students and their families, and now September 30 is an opportunity to meaningfully raise awareness and come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.