Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – September 30, 2023

Statement from the DFP Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee

September 30 is a day to remember and to honour survivors and those children who never came home from residential schools.

Orange Shirt Day shirts, books and pamphlets

Phyllis Webstad’s lived experience at St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School in Williams Lake and her advocacy as a survivor are the inspiration behind Orange Shirt Day.

Phyllis is from the Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation. She chose the month of September for this day because that is the month when children start school or return school. It was the month in 1973 when she, as a little girl who had just turned six, was sent to residential school and had her clothing taken away, including her brand new orange shirt from her beloved grandmother.

Phyllis recalls that one Elder refers to September as “the crying month” because that is the month when Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to residential school.

When Phyllis was tired, sick, hungry or sad no one was there to comfort her in residential school besides other little children. She grew up believing that she did not matter, which is why in early 2013, she chose the slogan “Every Child Matters” to commemorate the day.

September 30 is a day to learn more about the true history of our country and the atrocities committed in the residential school system

It is a day to listen and to show support to First Nation, Métis and Inuit Peoples and their communities who carry the burden of the injustices, past and present, of colonization.

It is a day for each of us to be accountable and commit to the actions we can take, both as individuals and as part of the UBC medical community, to increase our awareness and understanding of the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

As we bear witness to the resilience of Indigenous Peoples and take steps towards reconciliation, we must shift the burden of change to settlers.

We must shift the onus of reconciliation from those affected by colonialism and racism, to allies with power and privilege.

In this spirit, we especially call on those in medical education to read, reflect on and implement changes based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the In Plain Sight Report recommendations 20-23. These recommendations call on us to create truth-telling and educational opportunities for learners, faculty and staff that ensure accurate and detailed knowledge about Indigenous-specific racism, colonialism and trauma-informed practice as well as Indigenous health, wellness and resilience.

In Plain Sight Report Recommendations


Recommendation 20:

That a refreshed approach to anti-racism, cultural humility and trauma-informed training for health workers be developed and implemented, including standardized learning expectations for health workers at all levels, and mandatory, low-barrier components. This approach, co-developed with First Nations governing bodies and representative organizations, MNBC, health authorities and appropriate educational institutions, to absorb existing San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety training.

Recommendation 21:

That all B.C. university and college degree and diploma programs for health practitioners include mandatory components to ensure all students receive accurate and detailed knowledge of Indigenous-specific racism, colonialism, trauma-informed practice, Indigenous health and wellness, and the requirement to provide service to meet the minimum standards in the UN Declaration.

Recommendation 22:

That the B.C. government, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, consider further truth-telling and public education opportunities that build understanding and support for action to address Indigenous-specific racism in the health care system; supplemented by a series of educational resources, including for use in classrooms of all ages and for the public, on the history of Indigenous health and wellness prior to the arrival of Europeans, and since that time.

2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action pertaining to Health

18. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties.

2023 Every Child Matters Shirt

19. We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal peoples, to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes Calls to Action| 3 between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, and to publish annual progress reports and assess long-term trends. Such efforts would focus on indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence, and the availability of appropriate health services.

20. In order to address the jurisdictional disputes concerning Aboriginal people who do not reside on reserves, we call upon the federal government to recognize, respect, and address the distinct health needs of the Métis, Inuit, and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples.

21. We call upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.

22. We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.

23. We call upon all levels of government to: i. Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field. ii. Ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities. iii. Provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.

24. We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

Here are some ways you can honour the above:

Attend UBC events taking place this month.

Commit to learning the truth about residential schools.

Commit to taking action to support healing and growth so that the burdens of the past and present colonial injustices in Canada do not fall upon the shoulders of Indigenous peoples.

See Calls to Action numbers 18 to 24 for actions specifically related to health

Commit to honouring and celebrating the resilience and strength of residential school survivors, their families and communities in events that commemorate Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Listen and learn from what survivors and their families have to share.

Recording from the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s REDI Office Indigenous Speakers’ Series are included in the link here.

University of Victoria Orange Shirt Day Event at the Quad  – Sept. 29, 2023, 11:45am

Events in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland

Virtual Events taking place Sept. 25 – 30, 2023 through the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Commit to checking out what events are happening in your community and to reading any of the many books by Indigenous writers and storytellers concerning residential schools and the resilience of Indigenous Peoples.


A 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line to support former residential school students, and those affected, can be reached any time at 1-866-925-4419.