Inspired by the story of residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad, people across Canada have commemorated September 30 as Orange Shirt Day for nearly a decade.

As a young girl, Phyllis was given a new orange shirt by her grandmother before being taken to a B.C. residential school. The shirt was confiscated and destroyed by her teacher on the first day of class. The destruction of Phyllis’ shirt has come to symbolize the colonial goal of residential schools to assimilate Indigenous peoples.

This year, the federal government passed legislation to mark September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.  The implementation of this new federal holiday is an important part of the reconciliation process that has been called for by Indigenous people and by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The ongoing recovery of mass graves sites near the locations of former residential schools has been a grim reminder of their legacy. CUPE continues to stand with Indigenous communities as they grieve these unjust losses within their communities.

Debra Merrier, CUPE National’s Diversity Vice-President, Indigenous Workers, welcomes the new federal holiday.

“It’s a day that many Indigenous CUPE members will be observing to mourn those who did not return to our communities from these institutions.  Along with CUPE’s National Indigenous Council, I encourage all of our allies to use this day to learn about the history of the residential school system and to reflect on the harms that it has caused Indigenous people.”

September 30 is now a statutory holiday for workers in federally-regulated sectors. CUPE has prepared a guide to help members outside the federal sector bargain the new holiday into their collective agreements. The guide is provided to locals as part of CUPE’s commitment to support reconciliation and justice for all Indigenous people.

What CUPE locals and members can do:

  • Download CUPE’s new guide on bargaining language for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to find out how you can observe the holiday and support reconciliation efforts.
  • Register for the virtual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event hosted by CUPE National.
  • Order an Orange Shirt Day t-shirt through the official supplier. Part of the proceeds will go to the Orange Shirt Society.
  • Show your support on social media. Share a photo of yourself wearing an orange shirt using the hashtag #OrangeShirtDay. Tag CUPE on Facebook @cupescfp, Twitter @cupenat and Instagram @cupe_scfp.
  • Download our guide to reconciliation for CUPE locals and consider how you and your local can support the calls to action.
  • Invite an Indigenous speaker to your next virtual meeting to talk about truth and reconciliation.
  • Learn more by taking CUPE’s Indigenous awareness workshop and human rights courses.