Orange Shirt Day: The Path to Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing in Healthcare

Photo From 2022 Orange Shirt Day Ceremony

Every year on September 30th, Canadians don an orange shirt, and the message behind this gesture is profound. Orange Shirt Day, now formally recognized as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR), is a day of reflection, understanding, and commitment to a future where the horrors of the past are acknowledged, and steps are taken to ensure they are never repeated.

The Origins of Orange Shirt Day

The history of Orange Shirt Day traces back to the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc woman from British Columbia. On her first day at a residential school in 1973, Phyllis’s new orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was taken away. This seemingly small act was symbolic of the broader cultural erasure and abuse Indigenous children faced at these institutions and was indicative of a much larger issue. Residential schools, funded by the Canadian government and run by Christian churches, operated from the late 1800s to 1996. Their primary aim was to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, but the cost was immense. Many children faced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and thousands never returned home.

The Significance of Recognition

Recognizing the historical and ongoing impacts of cultural genocide enacted through assimilation policies and the residential school system is critical to progressing reconciliation and ensuring that such horrors are not repeated. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a reminder of our collective responsibility to understand our history, acknowledge its impact, and work towards a more inclusive and equitable future.

The Ganawishkadawe Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health

At Women’s College Hospital (WCH), we understand the importance of this day, not just as a historical reflection but as a call to action. Our Ganawishkadawe Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health (GCWP-IH) stands as a beacon for First Nations, Inuit and Metis (FNIM) peoples, and as a testament to our commitment to providing culturally safe care to Indigenous patients and communities. Like many other institutions in Canada, we recognize that the healthcare system has not always been a place of healing for Indigenous peoples. Historical traumas and systemic discrimination have created barriers to care, leading to disparities in health outcomes.

The GCWP-IH strives to bridge these gaps by offering services rooted in traditional Indigenous healing practices and modern medical care to create a space where First Nations, Inuit and Metis patients feel seen, heard, understood and safe.

Reconciliation in Healthcare

Reconciliation in healthcare goes beyond acknowledging past wrongs. It’s about actively working to rectify them. In Ontario, and across Canada, this means ensuring that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples have equal access to quality healthcare. It means listening to Indigenous voices, understanding their unique needs, and integrating their wisdom into our healthcare practices.

At WCH, we are on a journey towards this goal and our continued support and collaboration with the GCWP-IH is just one step on this path. We are learning, evolving, and striving to be better. On Orange Shirt Day, and every day, we reaffirm our commitment to truth, reconciliation, and healing.

To learn more about our NDTR programming, visit our Web Hub.