On 30 September 2019, MGCI was flooded with a sea of orange as students and staff came to school wearing orange to honour the students of residential schools.

Students showing their support by wearing orange. Photo: Eric Zhao.

Orange Shirt Day is celebrated every year on 30 September to acknowledge all children who attended residential schools. This date was chosen since it is around the time of year when these children were taken to school and separated from their families. 

These residential schools, which were funded by the Canadian government and often run by churches, attempted to assimilate Aboriginal children between the ages of four and sixteen into European culture. The children suffered trauma, neglect, and abuse. They were made to think that their culture, their lives, their opinions, and their feelings were worthless. It is estimated that over 150 000 Indigenous children were schooled, and over 3 000 of them died at residential school. Those who survived into adulthood did not gain the necessary knowledge or skills to fit into society [1].

In 2013, Orange Shirt Day began as part of the Commemoration and Reunion events, which were held at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia. Phyllis Webstad shared her experience of residential school: on the first day, her bright new orange shirt and other clothing was forcibly taken away from her and she never saw her new clothes again [2].

Nowadays, Orange Shirt Day is recognized across Canada on 30 September, and shows support for all children who were forced to endure unfair treatment in residential schools. Every year, Canadians wear orange to protest the unjust treatment of the Aboriginal peoples and to remember that every child matters.

Many students and staff at Marc Garneau also wore orange to support the event. When asked about the importance of Orange Shirt Day, Grade 9 student Julie Liu said, “It helps show that we care about what happened and that Canadians are sorry that residential schools ever happened.”

The Social Justice and Equity Committee (SJEC) planned Orange Shirt Day and chose the stories that would be used to raise awareness about the movement. The event was promoted on the daily announcements as well as the MGCI SAC Instagram account four days before the event. From 26 September to 30 September, students could purchase an orange shirt for five dollars at lunch near the Student Activity Council (SAC) office in the cafeteria. 

Orange shirts being sold in the cafeteria. Photo: Eric Zhao.

Social Justice and Equity Convenor Serena Poonawalla said that the event was organized to raise awareness and show support for the many Indigenous children who faced abuse and neglect in the residential school system. 

When asked about the success of Orange Shirt Day, Poonawalla said, “I think it was extremely successful, as could be seen by the involvement of both staff and students. It was also really great that we were able to raise awareness about the significance of the day.” She added, “For next year I’d like to see a larger amount of the student population participate, although this year’s turnout was commendable.”