Orange Shirt Day, Truth and Reconciliation and FASD

Update 2021:

September 30, 2021 New blog post for Canada’s first annual Truth and Reconciliation Day.

July 2021: Since first posting about Orange Shirt Day and Truth and Reconciliation there have been discoveries of children in unmarked graves in several locations of residential schools across Canada. We knew they were there. We were told. Many just didn’t listen. I read a post that said Canada had about 150 residential schools operated by christian churches on behalf of the Government of Canada. They were designed to remove Indigenous children from the influence of their own culture.

An estimated 150,000 children passed through the schools between 1883 and 1996 when the last one closed. 1996!  Estimates are from anywhere from 3,200 to over 30,000 children died at these schools. I read another post that said these were not schools. Schools do not have or need burial sites. These were places of experimentation, torture and genocide.


There have been calls to cancel celebrations for Canada Day (July 1) and instead hold a day of mourning or remembrance. Many do not know how to help. Here are some ideas: How to support survivors of residential schools


In recognition of National Indigenous History Month (June), radio broadcasters across Canada will join together in an unprecedented collaboration to amplify, elevate, listen to, and learn from Indigenous voices with A DAY TO LISTEN on Wednesday, June 30. In partnership with the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF), A DAY TO LISTEN is dedicated to sharing stories from Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, elders, musicians, and teachers throughout the day. 


Earlier this month the National Post today published an article Much work remains on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action that noted six years after the TRC report, only 13 of the 94 Calls to Action have been fully implemented. The government has taken some steps on 60 and 21 remain with no real action.

Original Post:

It is Orange Shirt Day in Canada today (September 30). My daughter has an indigenous background in her birth family. She has over the years been proud of her roots, but has yet to really explore what it means. Today I wore orange to not only recognize her heritage, but to honour the survivors and their families of the residential schools.


Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013. This project was the vision of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, who is a former student himself. It brought together former students and their families from the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’imc Nations along with the Cariboo Regional District, the Mayors and municipalities, School Districts and civic organizations in the Cariboo Region.

The events were designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. Chief Justice Murray Sinclair challenged all of the participants to keep the reconciliation process alive, and as a result of the realization that every former student had similar stories.

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of this project. As spokesperson for the Reunion group leading up to the events, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of her first day at residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year old girl.

If you would like to read more about Orange Shirt Day, visit the website.

If you’d like to learn more about the residential schools, you can read An Overview of the Indian Residential School System .

If you would like to read the full TRC Report, visit Calls to Action.

As Chief Justice Sinclair challenged us, today is a good time to review the Call to Actions from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that dealt with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

The information below is directly from a paper published by the Canada FASD Research Network :

Consensus Statement:
Eight Tenets for Enacting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #33

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada released 94 Calls to Action on June 2, 2015 including Call to Action #33, which focuses on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

In May 2017, a Dialogue to Action on the Prevention of FASD was held in Vancouver, British Columbia on the Unceded Territories of the Coast Salish Peoples including the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú 7mesh (Squamish), Stó :lō and Səl̓iĺ wətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

The Dialogue was organized around TRC Call to Action #33, which states:


Co-organized by the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, and the Canada FASD Research Network, the event brought together 23 experts from across Canada working in areas of FASD, Indigenous health and wellness. Participants included frontline workers, community leaders, policy makers, and researchers. Tenets reflect the perspectives of the participants and are grounded in research.

The Consensus Statement (appearing below) is informed by the Principles of Reconciliation as outlined by the TRC which includes:

  • a recognition about the right to self-determination,
  • the role of healing relative to recognition of past harms,
  • the ongoing impact and legacy of colonialism,
  • the need for collaboration and dialogue, and
  • the political will and commitment to bring about paradigm shifts and systemic change.

The purpose of this Consensus Statement is to:

  • Inform: robust and culturally safer approaches to implementing TRC Call to Action #33 thereby delivering better supports and services to mothers, families and communities.
  • Affirm: a cross-disciplinary and cross-organizational approach with a priority for Indigenous knowledge to implementing TRC Call #33 while also sharing perspectives and insights with agencies, individuals and stakeholders committed to this same goal.
  • Promote: an ongoing and collaborative commitment to reconciliation.

Eight Tenets for Enacting Call to Action #33

1. Centering Prevention around Indigenous Knowledge and Wellness

A balance of the body, mind, spirit, and emotion are integral to Indigenous health and wellness.

FASD prevention efforts should use a wellness model to support individuals, families, and communities and be guided by frameworks such as First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework and Honouring our Strengths: A Renewed Framework to Address Substance Use Issues Among First Nations People in Canada.

In responding to Call to Action #33, it is essential to center prevention and future research around the wellness framework and the principles of land, lineage, and language. Efforts to re-center Indigenous knowledge supports self- determination – giving individuals hope, a sense of belonging, and a greater understanding of the meaning of life, grounded in a sense of purpose to their life, integral to Indigenous wellness.

2. Using a Social and Structural Determinants of Health Lens

Prevention and research that is informed by the social and structural determinants of health can provide a foundation to positively support women and their families’ healing and wellness.

Prevention and research programs that adopt a determinants of health lens address more than individual behaviour through engaging with structural causes including the ongoing impacts of residential schools and structural inequality that continue to impact Indigenous peoples.

Engaging with the social and structural determinants of health re-centers conversations about alcohol and other substance use around wellness, removing stigma and blame from the individual and integrating the spirit to better assist mothers, families, and communities.

3. Highlighting Relationships

The breakdown of family and community relationships was a significant result of the residential school system and subsequent assimilatory policies. These policies separated children from their parents, extended families, and cultures, denying children with parenting knowledge and skills that were crucial to child rearing.

Prevention efforts must support parents and extended family; these efforts must also acknowledge the role that the extended family and Indigenous culture has in child development and socialization. This culture-based prevention can further improve the continuity of relationships within families and the community as it places land, lineage, and Indigenous language as central to healing through creating emotional connections and integrating culture into practice.

These prevention strategies can also improve relationships between researchers/practitioners and the community through supporting Indigenous worldviews of child rearing.

4. Community Based, Community Driven

Research and prevention need to be community based, driven by and based on community needs. Having community based care allows for care to respond to the needs of the community, ensuring Indigenous concepts of health and healing are central to service provision and support.

This goes beyond culturally safer care, to be grounded in Indigenous health and wellness. Community-based and driven services optimize the capacity to respond to the needs and realities of communities from within the inherent strengths of the linguistic culture of the people.

Communities with historical relationships may also collaborate on a nation-to-nation basis, while acknowledging the diversity across nations and First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations in Canada.

5. Provision of Wraparound Support and Holistic Services

Wraparound support coordinates professional and community supports/services to meet the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of women and families with complex needs.

Through using wraparound supports, including the natural supports that exist through culture and extended family, prevention efforts can be tailored to build upon women’s and community strengths, and center holistic care around the mother and child, their needs and culture.

Integrating wraparound supports in FASD prevention can increase self-determination for women with complex needs, and prevent further trauma, while intersecting determinants of health, to move beyond the narrow focus on individual behaviours towards meaningful outcomes for family and community.

6. Adopting a Life Course Approach

For FASD prevention, adopting a life course approach can support the creation of service delivery standards that engage culturally defined developmental stages of life and celebrate the life cycle.

Re-centering service delivery around Indigenous ways of knowing and healing can better connect individuals to their life purpose as its informed by their cultural identity.

Moreover, it can help identify support systems for individuals and families that promote positive parenting, help build relationships, and engage with culture to ultimately disrupt trauma arising from structural violence, colonization, and dislocation.

7. Models Supporting Resiliency for Women, Families, and Communities

Models supporting resiliency of Indigenous peoples, including the use of a strengths-based model that champions Indigenous culture as a foundation, are integral to women and their families’ wellness and self-determination.

Strengths-based models avoid defining one’s identity by the label of FASD and avoid stigmatizing language such as the claims that it is “100 percent preventable.”

Strengths-based models seek empowering action and avoid the use of deficit models of disease, punitive approaches, justification for incarceration, and do not promote stigma and social isolation.

In FASD prevention programs, models supporting resiliency and strengths-based approaches support mothers and their families, a woman’s right to mother, maternal-child attachment, and positive parenting. They encourage families to see their own strengths and the resources they have and will support them, engendering hope, belonging, a sense of meaning, and purpose.

8. Ensuring Long-Term Sustainable Funding and Research

Current services and research priorities do not adequately recognize Indigenous worldviews or knowledge systems.

There is a need to address structural and systemic change through decolonizing research and methods as well as applying decolonizing language, and creating dedicated funding and commitments from the Federal Government. This requires universities and granting institutions to prioritize research led by Indigenous peoples and for Indigenous peoples, and using Indigenous worldviews.

To be ethical, funders need to ensure that Indigenous-led prevention programs and research are well-funded and sustained to affect change. This is critical to decolonizing research and increasing the quality of life of Indigenous peoples.

Unfortunately, the link to the CanFASD document with additional lists of resources is no longer valid. 

Although the above focuses solely on Call to Action #33, there is another one that dealt with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.


We not only have a legacy of residential schools to overcome and find reconciliation and healing, we also need to stop perpetuating the myth surrounding FASD and indigenous people.


However we do need to think about what the legacies of residential schools and the ways Canada has marginalized this group and what that might have to do with the prevalence of FASD in Indigenous populations.


The picture (above) which appears in the background of the graphics is The Brentwood Box. Carved by Coast Salish Artist Luke Marston, the TRC Brentwood Box is a lasting tribute to all Indian Residential School Survivors.

Perhaps take a few moments today to reflect on what you can do, not only today, but every day. Visit some of the links above to learn the history. If you have a great resource, leave a comment. I will also update this post with any additional links or information.

Image result for Orange Shirt Day Art Activities

For children, check out the Teachers Pay Teachers site for some free activities or visit the CBC Kids website for more information and links to child friendly resources.

For older children, teens, you can watch Gord Downie’s The Secret Path – a moving tribute to Chanie Wenjak – a young boy who tragically died on October 22, 1966, while walking the railroad tracks, trying to get home to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor know how to find it, but, like so many kids – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried.

In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of Canadian novelist Joseph Boyden:

Do we want to live in a haunted house the rest of our lives?