Originally published: September 2021
Schools in Alberta and across Canada recognize Orange Shirt Day on September 30. It’s a day to honour children that survived residential school, and to remember the lives that were lost. Wearing orange is a symbol of respect and mourning. This year, September 30 also marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
You may not know the tragic history of residential schools. You may be coming to terms with the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country. You are not alone. Many parents and caregivers struggle to talk about residential schools. It’s challenging, emotional, and hard to reckon with. There is a lot of hurt.
This Orange Shirt Day, commit to having conversations with your kids about residential schools. It’s not easy, but it’s important. Here’s how to get started.
Learn with your child
Learn the truth about our tragic history and its lasting impact on Indigenous students and families. With education and training, you’ll be better able to support your child.
Try these ideas:
- Read the powerful story of the original orange shirt, taken from Phyllis (Jack) Webstad on her first day at residential school.
- Explore the history of residential schools with trusted resources. Try learning modules from the Assembly of First Nations or information from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
- Listen to the stories of residential school survivors, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers. Look for opportunities in your community, or try virtual stories.
- Reflect on your own biases and misperceptions. Challenge them with accurate information about Indigenous Peoples and Communities in Alberta. This AHS series on Indigenous myths and misconceptions can help:
- Use the interactive tool, Beyond 94, to review the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and monitor progress.
- Register for Indigenous Canada, a massive online open course from Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. It’s a free, flexible virtual program for all types of learners.
Create space for conversation
Ask your child what they know about Orange Shirt Day, and go from there. Listen. Give them your full attention.
Don’t shy away from the truth—it’s possible to talk about injustice and discrimination with kids of all ages. Younger children can understand foundational concepts like kindness, fairness, and the difference between right and wrong. Older children may be ready for deeper, more nuanced conversations. Follow their lead.
Remind your child that it’s okay to ask questions. You may not have the answers, but you can work through it together. Reassure them that as Canadians, we are learning from the past. They don’t need to worry that they will be taken away.
Be there for your child. While events like Orange Shirt Day can help spark conversations, talking about residential schools is not a one-time thing. It’s our collective responsibility to keep the conversation going.
Use Orange Shirt Day as an opportunity to explore the rich history, diversity, and culture of Indigenous communities in Alberta. Take pride in their beauty, strength, and contributions.
- Read books by Indigenous authors—visit your local library or try the Books to Build On search tool.
- Make connections with Indigenous peoples and organizations in your community. Visit your nearby Friendship Centre or Métis region. Check out local cultural events, art, music, or dance.
- Learn what Treaty land you’re on and how to acknowledge it.
- Try traditional games like ring the stick or double ball.
- Reflect on Indigenous values and teachings on wellness with short videos from Raising Our Healthy Kids – Indigenous Health.
- Spend time in nature, connecting with the land. Try traditional ways of getting active outdoors, like walking, berry picking, fishing, snowshoeing, or gardening.
Talking about residential schools is one way to help repair relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. It’s an important way to build respect, understanding, and empathy.
Orange Shirt Day can help spark a learning journey. Together, we can create a better future for Indigenous children and teens, families, and communities.
Talking about residential schools is difficult. If you are experieincing pain or distress, help is available.
- National Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
- Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
- Mental Health Help Line: 1-877-303-2642