The Story of Phyllis Webstad and Orange Shirt Day
One Child Can Change The World: The Origin Of Orange Shirt Day
In April 2013, Phyllis Webstad shared her orange shirt story for the very first time. Webstad, a third-generation residential school survivor from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, spoke at a media event organized by the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemoration Project in Williams Lake, B.C. It was here she told the crowd how, at the age of six, she was excited for her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School.
Five years later, The Orange Shirt Story was published. This best-selling children’s book tells the true story of Phyllis and her orange shirt and of Orange Shirt Day, an important day of remembrance for First Nations Canadians.
The story begins with Phyllis living with her Granny on Dog Creek Reserve; a simple life with few playmates available, as they went to a residential school far away. As Phyllis’ first day at St. Joseph Mission residential school nears, her Granny takes her shopping for clothes and she chooses a shiny orange shirt for her first day. However, when she arrives at school, it is taken away from her, never to be returned.
This is both Phyllis Webstad’s true story and the story behind Orange Shirt Day, which is a day for us all to become educated and reflect upon the treatment of First Nations people and the message that “Every Child Matters”.
Now, almost 50 years after Phyllis attended residential school, Orange Shirt Day is commemorated across the country.
This year, as we observe National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, it is stories like these that must continue to be shared to remember and honour the heartbreaking loss of thousands of children lost to residential schools in Canada.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 stars
The Orange Shirt Story (Phyllis’ Orange Shirt) is geared towards younger children (ages four to six) and is a great conversation starter and teaching tool, with simple text and beautiful illustrations. Last year, my son and I recognized this important day by wearing our orange shirts, and this story was a helpful tool in sharing more about residential schools, their survivors, and how this impacts Indigenous families today. It’s an important piece of history I wish I would have learned about in school; one, as Canadians, we must take the time to understand, honour, and reflect upon each year.
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Andrea Querido is a 40-ish book-loving, introverted word nerd who’s passionate about connection, self-care, personal growth, creating community and, of course, books!
Favourite book: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Favourite brunch spot: Anywhere I don’t have to cook.