Honouring Orange Shirt Day – National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 30
In 2021, the Government of Canada passed legislation making September 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and a federal holiday.
The BC Museums Association urges our members and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast to use September 30 as an opportunity to learn, reflect, make connections, and take action in redressing more than 150 years of injustice.
This post will discuss the history of September 30/Orange Shirt Day/National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and share resources to help you plan for the day in your institution.
What is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
On July 20, 2021, the Government of Canada declared September 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation; a federal statutory holiday to allow public servants the opportunity “to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.” The declaration of this holiday is in response to Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action No. 80, calling for the creation of a statutory holiday “to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Roughly one month later, the Government of British Columbia released a statement marking September 30 as a “day of commemoration.” The Province has not yet declared September 30 as a province-wide statutory holiday but is committed to working with Indigenous leaders to find respectful ways to officially mark the day in future years. The release noted that in 2021, “many public services will remain open but may be operating at reduced levels. However, most schools, post-secondary institutions, some health sector workplaces, and Crown corporations will be closed.”
Museums, galleries, and cultural organizations that are not operated by federal, provincial, or local governments are not legally required to close on September 30 this year, but we encourage all BCMA members to use this day as an opportunity to learn, reflect, and take action in support of truth and reconciliation.
Is Orange Shirt Day the Same as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
Since 2013, the Orange Shirt Society, a not-for-profit organization located in Williams Lake, BC, has used Orange Shirt Day (September 30) as a day to recognize the ongoing harm that the residential school system has inflicted on Indigenous communities. The date was chosen because it represents the time of the year that children were taken from their homes and moved into residential schools. The orange shirt itself comes from the story of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad whose brand-new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother was taken from her by school administrators on her first day at a residential school in 1973, when she was six years old.
Donations made to the Orange Shirt Society help Phyllis Webstad and the Society continue to raise awareness across Canada about residential schools and their lasting impacts on individuals, families and communities. Donations can be made online.
If you would like to purchase an orange shirt to wear on September 30, the Orange Shirt Society keeps a list of official suppliers on their website: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/shirt-retailers.html
Vancouver Magazine also published a list of shirts created by Indigenous designers: https://www.vanmag.com/Where-to-Purchase-Orange-Shirts-for-Canada-Day
Should My Museum Close on September 30?
Ultimately, we encourage members to take whatever actions they feel will be the most impactful for their staff, volunteers, and community on September 30. For some organizations, closing and encouraging volunteers and staff to participate in community events or to spend time focusing on self-education is the best course of action.
If your site is somewhere community members turn to learn about the history of colonization and the attempted genocide of Indigenous cultures and peoples, then staying open and facilitating community dialogue is the best course of action.
For some organizations, it might make sense to close to the public and bring your board, staff, and volunteers together on-site for a day of learning (Nahanee Creative offers a series of mini-online courses that you might want to consider:).
The BCMA strongly encourages our members to take time to reflect on what makes the most sense for you – have conversations with your team, ask partner organizations what they are planning, and reflect on what could be the most meaningful course of action. However, we ask non-Indigenous organizations to refrain from relying on Indigenous communities, partners, and staff to tell you what to do. Even well-meaning outreach can be burdensome and add emotional labour to Indigenous partners and it is important that non-Indigenous and settler Canadians take agency in redressing the wrongs of colonization.
There is no single right answer, so look within and reflect on what is best for your specific organization.
What Are Some Appropriate Resources and Events to Engage With?
If you are looking for resources and learning opportunities for yourself or to share with your staff, volunteers, or community, we recommend the following. If you have an event you’d like to see added to this list, please email us.
How is the BCMA Marking September 30?
The BCMA staff, board, and Indigenous Advisory Committee have been in dialogue discussing what would be the most impactful way for our organization to mark September 30. This year, we intend to use the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to help promote Indigenous-led online events, connect our members with learning opportunities, and give our staff time and space to learn and reflect.
We intend to schedule and share resources for members leading up to September 30, but our team will use the day as a professional development and growth opportunity. All BCMA team members will be given the morning of September 30 to focus on learning more about an aspect of truth and reconciliation – this could include participating in a community event, watching a webinar, reading a relevant article or book, or visiting an Indigenous museum or cultural centre. The team will come together virtually in the afternoon to share their experiences and learnings.
We hope to make this form of team knowledge exchange a regular part of our professional practice moving forward.