September 30: Orange Shirt Day | National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Every child matters. On September 30th, people across Canada wear orange and participate in Orange Shirt Day events to recognize and raise awareness about the history and legacies of the residential school system in Canada.

The Canadian government designated September 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, beginning in 2021. This responds to Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 80, which states that the federal government will work with Indigenous people to establish a statutory day to “honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process”. 

Orange Shirt Day originates from the story of Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. In 1973, on her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, BC, Phyllis’s shiny new orange shirt was stripped from her, never to be seen again. 

40 years later, on September 30th, 2013, Phyllis spoke publicly for the first time about her experience, and thus began the Orange Shirt Day movement.

Artwork: ‘Truth,’ by Eliot White-Hill (2021)

Hear Phyllis tell her orange shirt story:

“When you wear an orange shirt it’s like a little bit of justice for us Survivors in our lifetime, and recognition of a system we can never allow again,”

~Phyllis Webstad

Wear orange

Wearing orange is a way to show your support for Survivors and their families and acknowledge the legacy of residential schools.

Each year, the IRSHDC and UBC will feature the work of an Indigenous artist in its Orange Shirt Day campaign. This year, we are pleased to feature inaugural artist and intergenerational Survivor Eliot White-Hill and his thoughtful and moving design, “Truth”.

About the Artist and Artist’s Statement can be found here

Shirts with Eliot’s design are available for sale at the UBC Bookstore and MOA (while quantities last). Proceeds from the sales will go to the Orange Shirt Society and the Indian Residential School Survivor Society. Orange t-shirts can also be purchased on the Orange Shirt Society website.


Visit UBC’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre to learn more about their work


Picking up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket
Date: September 21, 2021
Time: 4:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Virtual Event (free event)

Inspired to know more about his father’s time at residential school, Kwagiulth master carver and artist Carey Newman created the Witness Blanket – a wall-sized monument that commemorates the experiences of residential Survivors and their families, as well as the children who didn’t make it home. The Witness Blanket is constructed from hundreds of everyday items collected from residential schools, churches, government buildings and cultural structures across Canada. Each object has a story to tell, each Survivor has something to say. Narrated by the artist, this 90-minute film weaves together those stories with Carey’s personal journey, examining how art can open our hearts to the pain of truth and the beauty of resiliency.

The film screening will be preceded by a Musqueam welcome and opening remarks by Chief Dr. Robert Joseph and IRSHDC Academic Director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Aki-Kwe). Following the film, a live Q&A with Carey and his sisters Ellen and Marion will be moderated by Dr. Turpel-Lafond. Audience members will be invited to submit questions via chat.


Returning Home and Pathways to Reconciliation
September 27, 2021
11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Chan Centre for the Performing Arts (free event)

“Returning Home” weaves the story of two parallel narratives. The first is the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Survivor of the former St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in Williams Lake and originator of Orange Shirt Day. The second is the story of the steady decline of wild pacific salmon. This 45-minute film is the first feature-length documentary produced by Canadian Geographic. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Sean Stiller, it is set to tour the film festival circuit this fall, beginning with the Vancouver Film Festival on October 3, 2021.

We are pleased to be able to showcase the film in advance, in a special presentation that will include a Musqueam welcome and opening remarks by Dr. Jo-ann Archibald and IRSHDC Academic Director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond-Lafond (Aki-Kwe), as well as a post-screening conversation and Q&A with Phyllis, moderated by Dr. Turpel-Lafond-Lafond.


These events are part of the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre’s Orange Shirt Day | National Day for Truth and Reconciliation programming. It is presented in partnership with the First Nations House of LearningUBC Learning Circle and the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health.

For a full listing of events, please visit the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre’s Orange Shirt Day 2021 page

Artwork: ‘Truth,’ by Eliot White-Hill (2021)