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A crosswalk is painted orange with white feathers to honour the survivors of residential schools in Canada on the Day for National Truth and Reconciliation Day. .
A crosswalk is painted orange with white feathers to honour survivors of Canada’s residential school system.

Each year, September 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (also known as Orange Shirt Day). The day recognizes and remembers the tragic history and honours the survivors of residential schools. These schools were underfunded and inflicted abuse on children leaving long-lasting impacts. It’s also an important day for all Canadians to learn about Canada’s Indigenous history.

For newcomers, it’s essential to know the history of the country you are joining. To reflect a more inclusive history, Canada will update its citizenship guide with information about residential schools. This update will help newcomers to learn about the wrongs committed against the Indigenous people. And, by exposing the truth, we can move toward reconciling what Canada has long ignored. Another valuable resource is Reconciliation Information for Newcomers to Canada. This educational guide provides the history of Canada’s residential school system and reconciliation information for newcomers.

Origin of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Since its founding in 2013, Orange Shirt Day has helped Canadians learn about past mistakes and remember the legacy of residential schools. More than that, it symbolizes how Canadians are striving for a future where all Indigenous people have equal rights.

History of Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day recognizes the harm that residential schools caused to Indigenous children, families, and communities. The day is based on the story of Phyllis Webstad. She was an Indigenous girl of 6 years when she was forced to go to a residential school.

Phyllis lived with her grandmother on Dog Creek Reserve and never had a lot of money. However, her grandmother still managed to save enough money to buy Phyllis a brand new orange shirt to wear to school. Phyllis was excited to go to her residential school. But she did not yet know about the horrors that would be awaiting her.

Once she reached the school, she was forced to take off her orange shirt and she never saw it again. The orange shirt has come to symbolize how it was for Indigenous children to attend residential schools. Not only did these schools forcefully assimilate children but they also took away all meaning of life for them.

Orange Shirt Day is a way to fix the injustice done to the Indigenous peoples. It is also a stark reminder of the kind of place Canada would be without its accepting and inclusive environment. Canada is full of many great things but one of the greatest things Canadians have is a sense of unity, no matter what our backgrounds are. Let’s never forget that as we move into the future. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation allows Canadians to pause and reflect on the meaning of the day.

On September 30, people across Canada wear orange shirts to remember the children who were taken from their families to residential schools. Wearing orange also promotes the concept of “Every Child Matters” and honours the survivors of residential schools.

Orange Shirt Day promotes the concept of “Every Child Matters” and honours the survivors of residential schools.

Remains of Indigenous Children Found in Kamloops, B.C.

In May of 2021, there was a shocking discovery in the city of Kamloops, British Columbia. The remains of 215 Indigenous children were found buried near a residential school. Kamloops Residential School was one of the biggest residential schools in Canada. Sadly, the remains belonged to the children who attended the school.

More remains were found near other residential schools in Canada revealing a dark chapter of Canada’s history. So it’s our job as Canadians, to honour the survivors of residential schools and recognize their losses. These discoveries should urge all Canadians to learn from the past and avoid making the same mistakes.

What is Canada Doing About This?

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools recommended specific actions to reverse the injustice. And on June 3, 2021 the Canadian parliament passed Bill C-5 to designate September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

This day encourages Canadians to learn about the darker parts of Canada’s past rather than to hide from it. It’s a day to learn about key historical events. Only when every Canadian knows about the crimes committed against Indigenous peoples can we move forward as a nation.

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National Truth and Reconciliation Events in 2023

A picture of three young Indigenous children walking along a path, holding hands and wearing wearing traditional regalia. The photo represents truth and reconciliation

On September 30 you can participate in a number of events that First Nations, Metis, and Inuit leaders have organized. These important events help all Canadians to acknowledge the harm done and better understand the history of Indigenous Peoples.

Reconciliation is an ongoing process. By participating in events, we take the time to listen, learn, reflect, and support reconciliation in our local communities.

Ottawa, Ontario

Illuminating Parliament Hill

To honour the survivors of residential schools, their families and communities buildings across Canada including the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill will be illuminated in orange from September 30 at 7 p.m. to sunrise on October 1.

National Commemorative Gathering

A live broadcast, Remembering The Children: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2023 will air from Parliament Hill. You can join in person or watch the broadcast online to memorialize children lost to the residential school system.

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Winnipeg Art Gallery

The Winnipeg Art Gallery will host a special day of programming that includes tours, workshops, and talks about the experiences and history of Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools. Special guests include Reconciliation for Newcomers to Canada.

Calgary, Alberta

Every Child Matters Traditional Powwow

Siksika Health Services and the Calgary Hitmen will host the Every Child Matters Traditional Powwow in the Scotiabank Saddledome on September 30th to mark the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation & Orange Shirt Day. The powwow will open with a special greeting from the founder of Orange Shirt Day, Phyllis Webstad.

Toronto, Ontario

To mark September 30, flags at City Hall and civic centres will fly at half-mast and the Toronto sign will be lit orange. The Survivors Flag will also fly at half-mast. This flag is a sign of remembrance to honour all the lives and communities affected by the residential school system in Canada. In addition, many truth and reconciliation community events will be open to the public across the city.

Vancouver, British Columbia

On September 30, the University of British Columbia will host the Intergenerational March to Commemorate Orange Shirt Day This educational event will also support the Indigenous community on campus and beyond. A series of afternoon educational events will allow younger participants to learn about a difficult era in Canadian history.

With events taking place all across Canada, be sure to check out what activities will take place in your local community.

Recognizing National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Recognizing September 30th as a statutory holiday encourages people to reflect and engage in activities that honour those affected by the residential school system. The Government of Canada declared September 30 as a federal statutory holiday. This means that workers in federally regulated industries such as postal workers, government staff, and bank employees get the day off with pay. As well some schools will close. When September 30 falls on a weekend. as it does in 2023, workplaces will observe the holiday on Monday, October 2, 2023.

Other provinces and territories also recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday including British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Nunavut. The other provinces are recognizing September 30th as a day of commemoration and leave it up to individual employers to treat it as a holiday. 

And for all Canadians, whether you’re at work, school, or home it’s a day to honour the survivors and communities of residential schools. As we learn more about Indigenous cultures across Canada we strengthen our relationships. Whether you wear an orange shirt on September 30 or take time to reflect on the past, you share your support for reconciliation!

For more information, tools, and resources about living in Canada, check out our Settling in Canada resource page.