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COLUMN: Make the most out of Orange Shirt Day

'As we send our children off to school this month, let's remember our not-so-distant past and accept the responsibility we have to the younger generation in creating safe and equitable communities.'
Chelsea Head Shot
Columnist Chelsea Gouchey

Orange shirts started to be worn as a symbol of the devastating effects of residential schools and the principle that every child matters, including Indigenous children, back in 2013.

Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her memory at a survivor's reunion event, of her first day at a residential school as an eight-year-old girl. Her initial excitement about starting school would be shattered, as her newly gifted orange shirt was taken away from her, along with a bit of her culture. Sept. 30 has been named Orange Shirt Day and, more recently, Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

I used to question the impact a shirt could have on raising the general awareness of a subject, but I no longer worry after experiencing countless meaningful conversations that would not have occurred had I worn a different-coloured shirt. So, this Sept. 30 I’ll be out wearing my “Every Child Matters” shirt, checking out local events, and continuing to have awkward conversations.

Make your own Orange Shirt pin

For years, I’ve admired Indigenous bead work. At the same time, I have been intimidated by the thought of taking the skill into my own hands to create something half as beautiful. This year, however, I finally started to teach myself and I am proud of my creations so far (some of them). I can’t wait to expand my knowledge and participate in a three-hour workshop on beading basics while making an Orange Shirt pin Sept. 24, at the Musée Heritage Museum. Tickets are available on EventBrite. 

Every Child Matters walk/run 

Starting at 3 p.m. on Sept. 30, participants will be taking off on foot from the Edmonton Kinsmen Centre with a choice of various distances through the river valley. The event will raise funds for the Orange Shirt Day Society and local grassroots movements such as Water Warriors. For someone like me, who doesn’t take running too seriously, I am looking forward to enjoying the fall colours and being around others who care for the same cause. 

Sept. 30 was chosen because it was the time during which students would be taken from their homes and forced to attend residential schools. As we send our children off to school this month, let's remember our not-so-distant past and accept the responsibility we have to the younger generation in creating safe and equitable communities. 

Chelsea Gouchey spent much of her childhood in St. Albert and is now a TESOL teacher, hospitality manager, speaker, writer, activist, and avid globetrotter.