Orange background with text "every child matters."

Orange Shirt Day is not only about remembering the past

Content Warning: anti-Indigenous racism, violence against Indigenous women, systemic racism

Orange shirt day is meant to give us all pause and encourage conversations about the history of residential schools and the enduring legacies those institutions have left behind.

The orange shirt originates with Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story of her brand new orange shirt her grandmother bought for her to wear on her very first day of school. Excited about starting school and about her new orange shirt, the 6-year-old child arrived at the residential school where the authorities stripped her of her clothes. She never saw her orange shirt again.

In Webstad’s words, “the colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared how I felt like I was worth nothing.”
Senator Murray Sinclair, First Nations lawyer and Chair of the Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission speaks at a school about TRC in 2014.

The continuing legacy of the system that produced Residential school institutions was horrifically – infuriatingly, heartbreakingly –  illustrated yesterday when Joyce Echaquan died at Joliette Hospital after being admitted for stomach pains. She’d been hospitalized before for a heart condition and knew from past experiences with the health care system that she needed to be wary of how the hospital staff would treat her, according to the Montreal Gazette.

While lying in the hospital bed, strapped down, she was in immense pain and pleading for help. At one point, she began streaming a live video on Facebook.

Staff are heard on the video shared by CBC news telling her she’s stupid, that she’s made bad choices, and what would her children think if they saw her like that?

The Montreal Gazette also reported that the video captured staff saying she’s only good for sex and that she would be better off dead. Then, “and who do you think is paying for this?”

Joyce Echaquan died yesterday because her pain wasn’t believed and her pleads for help were ignored. Like Webstad and countless other Indigenous people in Canada, she was shown that her feelings didn’t matter, that no one cared how she felt.

Joyce Echaquan is the latest avoidable death of an Indigenous person. The violence experienced by Indigenous people in Canada cannot be overstated.

In August, RCMP in Nova Scotia refused to issue an amber alert for a missing 14-year-old First Nations girl who disappeared in the company of her former foster father, Darcy Doyle, a white man with a criminal record.

On June 4, 2020, Chantel Moore was shot and killed by Edmunston, New Brunswick police, during a wellness check on her.

Also in June, the Legal Services Board of Nunavut issued letters to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, detailing more than 30 recent cases where there were vastly inadequate responses to domestic violence and sexual assault, strip searching of women, warrantless entries into home and failure to provide medical attention among other complaints.

The Federal Government’s action plan to respond to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was due June 2020 and has been postponed due to COVID-19. We can’t let this commitment be forgotten amidst a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities and the fallout of which will leave even worse enduring harm in Indigenous communities for generations to come if not adequately addressed now.

This Orange Shirt Day, we wear orange and we remember the 2,800 children murdered in the Residential School system, those murdered since by systemic racism, those living with intergenerational trauma while also constantly confronting stereotypes and persistent discrimination. We join the calls for justice for Joyce Echaquan’s family and for swift and real action taken in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission now nearly six years old.

We call for the end of the genocide of Indigenous people now.

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