The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a federal statutory holiday first declared in 2021. It is a day to remember the Indigenous children who didn’t return from attending residential schools, honouring the healing journey of the survivors, their families and communities while committing to the ongoing process of reconciliation.

September 30 was chosen as the date for the holiday as it coincides with Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led grassroots commemoration that began in B.C. in 2013.

The story springs from the experience of Phyllis Webstad, founder, and ambassador of the Orange Shirt Society.

When Phyllis was six years old, she wore a new orange shirt gifted to her by her grandmother for her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. However, when she arrived at the school, she was stripped of her clothes and never got to wear her beloved orange shirt again.

Phyllis’s orange shirt has come to symbolize everything that was stripped from the children who attended residential schools across the country.

“I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years,” she explains.

A Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), Phyllis has published two books – the Orange Shirt Story and Phyllis’s Orange Shirt for younger children – and tours the country telling her story and raising awareness about the impacts of residential schools.

IUOE Local 793 stands with Indigenous people, both across Canada and within our Union membership, as they continue to call upon everyone to listen to the stories of survivors and their families and to remember those children who never returned home from school.

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