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Orange Shirt Day happens each year on Sept. 30. This year, it falls on a Sunday — but that won’t stop Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) schools from participating.

Orange Shirt Day recognizes Canada’s history and the experience of an estimated 80,000 residential school survivors in Canada. The day traces its origin to Williams Lake, B.C., and the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project in 2013.

Phyllis (Jack) Webstad was a spokesperson for the mission’s reunion group when the idea of a day of recognition was formed. She shared her story of attending residential school and of having her brand new orange shirt taken from her when she arrived at the St. Joseph Mission in 1973. Webstad was six years old.

Webstad’s story inspired the Mission to declare Sept. 30 Orange Shirt Day, as this was the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to attend residential schools.

Everyone in Canada is invited to remember that "Every Child Matters" on Orange Shirt Day. This weekend, events will take place at the sites of some residential schools, the last of which was destroyed after it ceased operations in 1996.

For the Rainbow District School Board, the event provides an opportunity for staff to have a conversation about residential schools with students. Indigenous knowledge is a key component of the Truth and Reconciliation – A Commitment to Action plan that was adopted by RDSB on July 3.

The plan is intended to guide the board’s work in Indigenous education over the next five years.

"Participation in Orange Shirt Day demonstrates our collective commitment to building our ongoing understanding,” said Norm Blaseg, Rainbow’s director of education. “We invite everyone to wear orange and show students that every child matters,”

At Churchill Public School, students watched a video Thursday and many were dressed brightly in orange. Donna Van Dyk teaches Anishinaabemowin (the Anishinaabe language) at the school. Van Dyk shared the Anishinaabe word for ‘orange’ (‘ozaawmingaande’) with the students and led a healing song with them.

Charmaine is a Grade 4 student who said that some of her relatives attended the schools.

"I’m grateful that everybody is participating in this," Charmaine said.

Principal James Norrie said staff talk to students about the significance of wearing orange.

“Churchill is a very diverse school community, and talking about today and wearing orange today helps to empower our students," Norrie said.

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