Orange Shirt Day was launched in 2013 to call attention to 165 years of residential school experiences (1831-1996). For residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, the severing of the threads connecting her to family, community, and culture began in 1973, when the beautiful orange shirt she wore to her first day of school was stripped from her and never seen again. The removal of the orange shirt was the first of a series of destructive methods enforced to deplete her sense of self-worth, erase her culture, and suppress her spirit. Her story is just one of the experiences described by countless survivors, but many others did not live to tell their own story. Intergenerational experiences rooted in the trauma inflicted through residential schools and other forced-assimilation policies continue to ripple through communities today.
Negative social attitudes like racism have an impact on daily lives and government policies, leading to social disparities. Justice Murray Sinclair emphasized that “it was the educational system that has contributed to this problem in this country. And it is the educational system, we believe, that is going to help us to get away from this.”(1) When we learn from a past that includes the narratives of Indigenous peoples, we can nurture the seeds of resilience and hope for a brighter future, and so witness our proverbial great Canadain maple tree flourish. When we know better, we can do better.
Orange Shirt Day is intended to raise awareness and acknowledge the harms of the past that are still experienced today. This day can spark initiatives to weave reconciliation into education throughout the year and the years to come, thus contributing to a more just society
***If you have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
Crystal is a Cree/Dene Métis mother, Educator, Indigenous Education Consultant, and artist who is dedicated to supporting the Calls to Action. She has a background in New Media studies at the Vancouver Film School, a Bachelor of Education, a fine arts degree and a master’s degree in Educational Technology, as well as an Indigenous Creative Writing and Visual Arts diploma from the En’okin Center. She also has extensive experience teaching in First Nations communities, and experience in resource development, research and the facilitation of Indigenous Education for teachers across the province of Alberta, as well as in teaching educational technology to pre-service teachers.
Warning: this film contains disturbing content and is recommended for audiences 16 years of age and older. Parental discretion, and/or watching this film within a group setting, is strongly advised. If you need counselling support, please contact Health Canada.
In this feature film, the profound impact of the Canadian government’s residential school system is conveyed through the eyes of two children who were forced to face hardships beyond their years. As young children, Lyna and Glen were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools, where they suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the effects of which persist in their adult lives. We Were Children gives voice to a national tragedy and demonstrates the incredible resilience of the human spirit.
In a pounding critique of Canada's colonial history, this short film draws parallels between the annihilation of the bison in the 1890s and the devastation inflicted on the Indigenous population by the residential school system.This film is part of Souvenir, a series of four films addressing Indigenous identity and representation by reworking material in the NFB's archives.
In 1963, Lena Wandering Spirit became one of the more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were removed from their families and sent to residential school. Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s short documentary Holy Angels powerfully recaptures Canada’s colonialist history through impressionistic images and the fragmented language of a child. Villeneuve met Lena through his work as a videographer with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Filmed with a fierce determination to not only uncover history but move past it, Holy Angels speaks of the resilience of a people who have found ways of healing—and of coming home again.
This short documentary explores the legacy of residential schools through the eyes of two extraordinary women who not only lived it, but who, as adults, made the surprising decision to return to the school that had affected their lives so profoundly. This intimate and moving film affirms their strength and dignity in standing up and making a difference on their own terms.Second Stories follows on the heels of the enormously successful First Stories project, which produced 3 separate collections of short films from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Second Stories builds on that success by continuing the training with 3 of the 12 Indigenous filmmakers who delivered such compelling short documentaries. Produced in association with CBC, APTN, SCN, SaskFilm and MANITOBA FILM & SOUND.
Released in 1971, this lyrical short documentary marked the directorial debut of legendary Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin. Filmed at a residential school in northern Ontario, it is composed entirely of drawings by young Cree children and stories told by the children themselves. Listening has been at the core of Obomsawin’s practice since the very beginning. “Documentary film,” she said in a 2017 interview, “is the one place that our people can speak for themselves. I feel that the documentaries that I’ve been working on have been very valuable for the people, for our people to look at ourselves… and through that be able to make changes that really count for the future of our children to come.”
The Road Forward, a musical documentary by Marie Clements, connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history—the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s—with the powerful momentum of First Nations activism today. The Road Forward’s stunningly shot musical sequences, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians, seamlessly connect past and present with soaring vocals, blues, rock, and traditional beats. A rousing tribute to the fighters for First Nations rights, a soul-resounding historical experience, and a visceral call to action.
In five short minutes, this short film destroys any remaining shreds of the myth of a fair and just Canada. Children forced from their homes and sent to residential schools, families examined like livestock in crowded tuberculosis clinics, tainted water and land, poisoned for industry and profit at the cost of Indigenous lives, and the list goes on. But filmmaker Jeff Barnaby's message is clear: We are still here. Featuring the music of Tanya Tagaq.This film is part of Souvenir, a series of four films addressing Indigenous identity and representation by reworking material in the NFB's archives.
This short film traces Pete Standing Alone's personal journey from cultural alienation to pride and belonging. As a spiritual elder, teacher, and community leader of the Kainai Nation of Southern Alberta, Pete works with youth to repair the cultural and spiritual destruction wrought by residential schools. At age 81, he has come full-circle in his dedication to preserving the traditional ways of his people.