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Why Wearing an Orange Shirt Isn't Enough

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

September 30th, 2022 will mark Canada’s second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day was created to commemorate those who attended residential schools, their families, and their communities.[1] The introduction of the holiday also fulfills the TRC Call to Action 80, which called on the federal government to ensure public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools.[2] It is hoped that this public commemoration will play an important role in the reconciliation process and encourages Canadians to wear orange shirts in recognition of the day.[3] I think that introducing this holiday is an important step in the reconciliation process, but Canadians are responsible for doing more than just wearing an orange shirt.

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To meaningfully participate in reconciliation on September 30th, you should take the time to educate yourself not only on the history of the residential school system, but on the legacy of the schools. It is crucial to recognize that the educational, income, health, and social disparities between Indigenous people and other Canadians exist partly due to the residential school system.[4] It is also important to reflect on the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada today with respect to child welfare, murdered and missing women and girls, lack of access to clean drinking water, deplorable housing conditions on reserves, and over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons.

Although a lot of these issues faced by Indigenous people in Canada can be traced back to the horrors of residential schools, it is crucial to recognize that the reconciliation conversation shouldn’t start and end with residential schools. The impacts have been compounded, time and time again, through insufficient response, underfunding of necessary social services, and overt racism. The mistreatment of Indigenous people by the Canadian state has imparted prejudice and a lack of understanding on many. It is up to Canadians to challenge this mistreatment and push for change.

It is easy to wear an orange shirt and to say that you recognize that some bad things happened decades ago, but it is a lot more difficult to critically reflect on your beliefs and understandings of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people today. It is even harder to question prejudice that you may hold personally against a group who have been controlled and dominated by the Canadian government time and time again, a group that has had everything taken: their land, their children, their women and girls, their freedom, and their communities.

So, as you dig through your closet or drawers for that wrinkly orange shirt, I ask that you think critically about the day and about how you, personally, are taking part in reconciliation. Don’t just ‘check the box’ to make yourself feel like you did your part. Make an effort to question your beliefs and make yourself uncomfortable, because no one said that this was going to be easy.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” (20 September 2022), online: Government of Canada <>. [2] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015) at 9. [3] Ibid. [4] Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015) at 135.

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