September 30 is a national statutory holiday to recognize the widespread abuse at residential schools, honour survivors, and work for reconciliation. The event has been known as Orange Shirt Day (https://orangeshirtday.org/orange-shirt-day/)since 2013, named after the clothing taken from Phyllis (Jack) Webstad when she was six years old on her first day at residential school.
Unifor recognizes Orange Shirt Day using the slogan “Every Child Matters”—a plea to value and care for all children, something that was not the standard held by the churches administering residential schools, nor provincial governments nor the Government of Canada.
Since the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021, other nations have undertaken their own searches with similar appalling results.
While more recent discoveries have not received the same attention as earlier announcements, they are every bit as traumatic for the communities and the living relatives of the children who never came back from residential schools.
Announcements in 2023 of potential and confirmed childrens’ remains include:
• Star Blanket Cree Nation (Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School): https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/search-finds-remains-of-a-child-at-former-quappelle-indian-residential-school-in-saskatchewan/
• Wauzhushk Onigum Nation (St. Mary’s Indian Residential School): https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/wauzhushk-onigum-nation-finds-171-anomalies-during-search-of-st-marys-school-site/
• English River First Nation (Beauval Indian Residential School): https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/english-river-first-nation-announces-more-findings-in-unmarked-graves-1.6951437
• Tseshaht Nation (Alberni Indian Residential School): https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/search-possible-graves-vancouver-island-residential-school-1.6754634
• shíshálh Nation (St. Augustine’s Residential School): https://globalnews.ca/news/9639165/40-unmarked-childrens-graves-residential-school-sechelt-bc/
It is a reminder of the scale of colonial violence that still haunts survivors and their families today. Reconciliation is not possible until Every Child Matters.
Unifor encourages all members to help amplify the calls to end the impunity for those who covered up these crimes or continue to block the release of records.
1. Unifor members can find out what first nation communities in their region are still undertaking searches, and may be in need of donations to complete the work.
2. Wear orange on September 30.
3. Register for a virtual tour of a former residential school: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/woodland-cultural-centre/events/september-27-tour-2023/ on September 27. Unifor has sponsored the suggested donation for up to 200 members to register.
4. Register for an online screening of the film Silent No More: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/woodland-cultural-centre/events/silent-no-more-september-28-2023/ on September 28. Unifor has sponsored the suggested donation for up to 200 members to register.
Unifor National President