The B.C. woman who turned a childhood shirt into a symbol that commemorates the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system says turning Sept. 30 into a statutory provincial holiday will help prevent a repeat of the residential school system.
Sept. 30 marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and coincides with Orange Shirt Day started by Phyllis Webstad in 2013.
“One day, there will be no survivors left in Canada and what is forgotten is often repeated,” Webstad said Tuesday at the B.C. Legislature. “With this, it will ensure that the conversation is being had, along with the federal statutory holiday. It will help to make sure that this never happens again. The conversation will continue long after all of us survivors are gone.”
The provincial government Tuesday (Feb. 7) introduced legislation that would mark Sept. 30 and by extension Orange Shirt Day a provincial statutory holiday for all employees subject to the Employment Standards Act.
Webstad said she is very excited and humbled by B.C.’s decision to elevate the status of Sept. 30 in time for the 10th anniversary of Orange Shirt Day.
Sept. 30 became a federal statutory holiday in 2021 and B.C. would become the second of Canada’s 10 provinces after Prince Edward Island to formally recognize that way. Canada’s three federal territories also recognize it as a statutory holiday. New Brunswick recognizes it as a provincial holiday, but the the holiday is optional for private sector businesses.
Minister of Labour Harry Bains introduced the legislation Tuesday morning. He said at a news conference that the change comes after consultations with the First Nations, business leaders and workers among other groups.
“This will give more people the chance to honour the strength and resilience of residential school survivors and remember the children who never came home,” Bains said. He added that this formal recognition of Sept. 30 is a sign of the government’s commitment toward meaningful reconciliation.
Sept. 30 became a federally recognized holiday following a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin said B.C. also has a responsibility to truthfully recognize and remember the legacy of Canada’s residential school system, which tried to assimilate B.C. Indigenous peoples by stripping them of their culture, their language, their connection to their family and community and to their land.
“Many Indigenous children suffered physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse at these institutions,” Rankin said.
Webstad, who had received an orange shirt from her grandmother, only to see it ripped away after arriving at St. Joseph’s Indian Industrial School in Williams Lake, said she hopes British Columbians will mark Sept. 30 by having conversations to honour survivors and their families as well as those who never made it back. “Do something,” she said. “Wear something…do whatever you can and what is in your heart.”
Bains said the provincial government will work with Indigenous communities to ensure that the day is memorable. “This is not simply a day off, as has been suggested,” Rankin added. “It’s a day for commemoration and reflection and humility and learning.”