As the University’s tri-campus community prepares to recognize Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday, September 30, I encourage everyone to remember and reflect upon Orange Shirt Day’s origin and intent while considering ways to make reconciliation a part of your daily life.
The origins of Orange Shirt Day begin with the experience of six-year-old Phyllis Webstad (Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation), who arrived at her first day of residential school, only to be stripped of her new orange shirt—and with it, her sense of self-worth. Phyllis’s story speaks of the brutal legacy of colonialism that dehumanized Indigenous peoples, and her experience has galvanized communities across Canada to recognize the damage that nearly two centuries of residential schools have done to Indigenous children, their families, and the generations who followed them.
This year, Orange Shirt Day is especially significant. Work continues on the sites of former residential schools to identify, mourn, and honour the thousands of children buried there. As well, the Government of Canada has declared September 30 the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, affirming its commitment to implementing the Calls to Action identified in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s six-volume report (2015). This report inspired U of T’s own 34 Calls to Action (2017), which identify the University’s short- and long-term commitments to six areas of focus, including Indigenous Spaces, Indigenous Curriculum, and Institutional Support and Guidance. The Office of Indigenous Initiatives 2019 & 2020 Annual Report, which will be released shortly on the Indigenous U of T website, highlights progress in these areas as well as challenges still to overcome.
Orange Shirt Day urges all of us to acknowledge the unconscionable truths of Canada’s past and to commit ourselves to a new way forward. On September 30 at 2 pm, please join the Office of Indigenous Initiatives for a virtual, tri-campus Orange Shirt Day event featuring Lee Maracle—poet, author, member of U of T’s Elders Circle, former Traditional Teacher-in-Residence at the Indigenous Student Services, and a former instructor at U of T’s Centre for Indigenous Studies. The Office of Indigenous Initiatives will also be holding a gathering, hosted by UTM, Indigenous Initiatives, to bring together U of T’s Indigenous staff, faculty, and librarians.
Finally, I invite U of T staff, faculty, and librarians across the tri-campus to recognize Orange Shirt Day and show support by wearing orange and using an Orange Shirt Day virtual background and/or profile icon, available for download from U of T’s Orange Shirt Day event page.
The following resources are available to the U of T community:
Services for members of the Indigenous U of T Community
- National Indian Residential School Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419
- Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) 1-800-663-1142
Indigenous Cultural Competency Training series for all Students, Staff, Faculty, and Librarians
- This series includes the following sessions: Speaking Our Truths: The Journey Towards Reconciliation (Part 1 and Part 2); Reconciliation: Walking the Path of Indigenous Allyship; and Reflecting on Land Acknowledgements. Employees can register for this training through the Centre for Learning, Leadership, and Culture (LLC). Students can register for training through the Career Learning Network (CLNX).