An Orange Shirt? Or an Orange Attitude?

Walking the road with prayer, care and safety
Walking the road with prayer, care and safety

Thunder Bay – OPINION – It is the first statutory holiday to recognize and remember Canada’s Residential School era. Orange shirts are the dress of the day for many. Some are in remembrance, some appear to feel it is a day to celebrate.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

It is a time of Canada’s story that many would like to forget, and yet a time in our history that continues to live on with trauma in the lives of so many of the survivors and their family members.

Children were taken from their homes by Canadian authorities to attend Residential School. The stated goal was to remove the “Indian from the Child”.

It is a part of our country’s history that has not been taught in school. Change is coming to that, and that change is long overdue.

Perhaps what is needed is for the day to become a day of Remembrance. November 11th has evolved over the decades. I remember in Winnipeg as a child that on Remembrance Day everything was closed. If you went to the neighbourhood convenience store, they were only allowed to sell milk, eggs and bread.

As time has gone along, Remembrance Day which is not a Statutory holiday in Ontario or Manitoba has remained important.

In Thunder Bay school students have in pre-pandemic years attended services at Fort William Gardens and Waverly Park.

In our city today, for 2021, there is a Pow Wow in Fort William Gardens, NAN is holding events at John Paul Catholic School, and there will be a showing of Indian Horse at Marina Park. Thunder Bay planted a tree at Vicker’s Park this morning.

Is an Orange Shirt Enough?

While many have donned an Orange Shirt today, what is perhaps really needed is an “Orange Attitude”. This is a time for honest conversation, deep reflection, and for healing.

Likely for many Indigenous people, today will trigger them, emotionally the memories are really hard for them to deal with.

Churches are often full to capacity on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as at Easter. People get their semi-annual dose of Church on those days in lots of cases.

For the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, really it is not a one day event, but rather a daily effort to learn what happened, to learn how to move forward in reconciliation and to learn to treat each other with mutual respect.

You can’t do that all in one day.

I would suggest this is an effort where what is needed are learning modules, and the willingness to listen and learn.

On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to me it marks yet another step on what honestly is a long path to reconciliation.

Some seem to feel putting on an Orange Shirt will change the future. Maybe they are right, but to me we have a lot or real work to do before we can say the recovery from the trauma will be over.

Over the past several years, attending events to mark Orange Shirt Day, it has been really hard to honestly understand the thinking, or really lack of thinking that brought the government of the day into introducing this policy, and for successive governments to keep the Residential Schools going.

Ripping children from their families deprived them of their language, their culture and their bonds with their families. It led to deaths in the schools. Deaths that we are only just now starting to realize the full and terrible scope.

It started with 215 bodies, and it is growing as the grounds of former residential schools are examined.

Are Apologies Enough?

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology in the House of Commons over the Residential School era. Just this week, the Catholic Bishops in Canada issued an apology for their actions, or perhaps rather inactions at the Catholic run Residential Schools.

We see in our society today, examples of the schools. Many of the survivors returned home broken, the physical and sexual abuse left them shattered, ashamed, and without any process to heal.

That led to many of the social problems we still see today with addiction. Without any formal process in place to heal, sadly some sought alcohol.

Growing up in a world of physical, mental and sexual abuse, many survivors lived out their lives with anger issues.

The Federal Court decision offers $40,000 in compensation to children – a case that the federal government has fought since 2007.

Simply put, ask yourself would you feel that $40,000 would be enough to forgive and forget and heal if your children were ripped from your lives?

The future of this day is likely to evolve over time. The key is that the real reason for the day is never forgotten.

As I See It

The impact of residential school, the intergenerational residential school, the sixties scoop, the millennia scoop, failures in the child welfare system are all still with us as a society.

Learning and understanding, accepting, and rejecting the lateral violence is a good way to move forward.

We have, as the poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Miles to go”…

Let us together hope that journey is started.

James Murray



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