Orange Shirt Day is recognized each year on September 30. Check your local area for activities so you can participate in acknowledging Residential School survivors.
It is important to educate everyone about Canada’s wrongs so we can learn from it and begin to repair the damage that has been done. We have searched out some student friendly resources teachers can use in their classrooms to teach students about Residential Schools because Every Child Matters. Keep reading to get a list of resources you can use in your classroom.
What is Orange Shirt Day?
Orange Shirt Day is a day to think about the many students who were taken from their families to be “colonized.” Students placed in Residential Schools were not allowed to speak their native languages, practice their spiritual beliefs, wear their own cultural outfits or even wear their hair as their ancestors did. When their schooling was finished, they had difficulty returning to their communities because they didn’t speak the language or know the people. Entire cultures were wiped out. And those students that survived were considered lucky just to have survived. Many students never returned home after dying at the schools.
Phyllis Webstad (nee Jack) started Orange Shirt Day. Excited to go to her new school she bought a new orange shirt to wear for the first day of school, but upon arriving to school her new shirt and all her other belongings were taken away and never given back. That orange shirt now symbolizes remembering the wrongs that all students in Residential Schools endured.
Should teachers teach about Residential Schools?
Absolutely. Students should know our history, whether we were on the right side or the wrong side. It is our chance to learn from our mistakes.
Teachers need to approach the subject tenderly, honestly but with age-appropriate information.
Remember, that your students may be new to learning about Residential Schools, so we ask that you preview all materials you plan to use and think about how you will answer tough questions-like the different types of abuse students suffered-so that you have answered prepared for the learning age and maturity of your students. While it is important to be honest with students, it is also important to give them age appropriate answers. Avoid “sanitizing” the truth. Not speaking the truth is part of the reason Residential Schools and their history has been so unknown to most of Canadians.
What resources are available to teach students about Residential Schools?
Here are some materials we’ve located for elementary aged children.
First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada: The materials on the bottom portion of the page are best for young students.
Phyllis’s Story: The Original Story About Orange Shirt Day
St. Joseph’s Residential School Stories: A YouTube Video
And we found this video was one of the ones our students responded to. Every Child Matters
What are some great books to read to and with students about Residential Schools?
Ask your local librarian to search for these books so they can be part of your school library. Many are available online and some have recordings of the authors reading them. Please only use the audio versions created by the authors. This way authors and publishers get paid for their hard work.
Our books lists do not include affiliate links. We encourage you instead to shop your local bookstore and ask them to bring in more diverse books for the members of your community. Shopping local is also good for the environment and supports your local economy.
For younger students:
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Arctic Stories by Michael Kusugak
Kookum’s Red Shoes by Peter Evyindson
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer
Shi-shi-etko by Nicola Campbell
Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence
When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robinson
Phyllis’s Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad
For older students:
The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad
The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire
Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
A Stranger at Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
No Time to Say Good-bye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential Schools by Sylvia Olsen
As Long as the Rivers Flow by Larry Loyie
My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling
Dear Canada: These Are My Words by Ruby Slipperjack
They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars
Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story (Graphic Novel) by David Alexander Robinson
Red Wolf by Jennifer Dance
Totem by Jennifer Maruno
Good For Nothing by Michel Noel
The Red Files by Lisa Bird-Wilson (poetry)
For Some More Learning For Teachers
Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools by Pamela Rose Toulouse
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith
They Came for the Children by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School by Jack Agnes
Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors: A National History by Larry Loyie, Wayne K. Spear and Constance Brissenden
Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild
Northern Wildflower by Catherine Lafferty
Mamaskatch by Darrel McLeod
They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars
What are some other activities that can be done to observe Orange Shirt Day?
- Wear orange shirts.
- Hold an assembly. Do this online if you cannot be together.
- Have door greeters ask students to sign a pledge to always remember.
- Get students to decorate orange shirts and wear them for the event.
- Hold a drum circle. Watch one online if you cannot be together.
- Invite your local elders to come talk about their experiences.
- Have students learn about Residential Schools and tell others what they’ve learned.
- Read a book.
- Read some of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and see which you and your students can commit to doing.
- Take a moment.
We’ve created a few simple pages you can use with your students. You can find them in our store. Students can make paper orange shirts, make a pledge to remember. Last year every student in our school made a paper shirt and we covered a whole wall with the pledges. It was very moving to read all the comments and look at all the pictures students wrote and drew. They definitely learned a lot about Residential Schools and their impact on our world today. Most of them promised to never allow Residential Schools to open again. Several also wanted to learn more about Indigenous People so they could feel more connected to them.
We try to teach our students about Indigenous culture all year round. If you’re looking for more ideas, you can check out this blog post: Bring Indigenous Art into Your Lessons.
With your orange shirts on, go for a walk around your neighbourhood. Don’t think of it as a protest, but more of a “stand in solidarity” activity. If your school is in an area where there might a chance to educate others, have your students do the talking and educating. People listen to kids. Let them use their voices.
Have you heard of or participated in the Kairos Blanket Exercise? It is an eye-opening of emotional activity to understand the difficulties faced by the Indigenous People when the Europeans arrived. You can find information on their website.
If these activities are not available to you as an option, you can try this drama circle we created. We wrote it for our students in language we knew they would be able to understand. It talks about how life was before the settlers arrived, how life changed after the settlers arrived and why it’s important to move forward through truth and understanding.
All of the above activities are important for honouring and respecting the damage done by Residential Schools, but the work is only just beginning.
Learning about Residential Schools shouldn’t be restricted to a single day or lesson. Students should learn about how Indigenous People have been impacted by colonization throughout the history of Canada. Weave this learning into your history lessons, art lesson and conversations so that the next generation will know and understand the impact of colonization on the people who called this land home first.
Check out some of our other book lists:
Books About Kindness
Books for Remembrance Day
Books for Ramadan
Books for Holi Festival of Colours
Christmas Books We Love
Books for Lunar New Year
Books to Teach Social Emotional Learning
Cozy Up With Great Winter Books
Books for Asian History Month
Books You’ll Love With LGBTQ+ Characters
Do you have other ideas of how you’ve observed Orange Shirt Day? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll add them to our list.