Since 2013, September 30 has been commemorated as “Orange Shirt Day”, inspired by the story of residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad. 

As a young girl, Phyllis was gifted a new orange shirt by her grandmother before she was taken to a B.C. residential school. The shirt was confiscated and destroyed by her teacher on the first day of classes. The story has come to symbolize the colonial assimilation goals of the residential school system. 

Debra Merrier, CUPE National’s Diversity Vice-President Indigenous Workers, is passionate about Orange Shirt Day.

“It is so important that our members acknowledge the legacy of residential schools and how it impacted Indigenous communities. CUPE members can be leaders in reconciliation by supporting events like Orange Shirt Day and raising awareness of Indigenous issues in their locals”. 

As part of our commitment to truth and reconciliation, CUPE prepared Walking the Talk: a practical guide to reconciliation for CUPE locals. 

Walking the Talk provides CUPE locals and members with resources and advice on how to move forward in reconciliation through engagement with Indigenous peoples, inclusion of Indigenous cultures and languages in the work of our union, and through our advocacy for fair and equal public services for Indigenous communities. Members can download it directly.

Walking the Talk is part of our union’s commitment to educate CUPE members on the legacy of the residential school system, and to explain how Canada’s assimilationist policies and laws continue to harm Indigenous peoples. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to  honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and to ensure public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools. CUPE supports the calls for the Federal Government to establish September 30th as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in collaboration with Indigenous peoples. 

What CUPE locals and members can do: 

  • Show your support by sharing a photo of yourself on social media wearing an orange shirt using the hashtag #OrangeShirtDay. Tag us on Facebook @cupescfp, Twitter @cupenat and Instagram @cupe_scfp. 
  • Read Walking the Talk and consider how you can support the calls to action. 
  • Invite a speaker to your next virtual meeting to talk about truth and reconciliation. 
  • Due to COVID-19, many events are now virtualSearch online tfind Orange Shirt Day events in your region or organize your own event.