A Napanee student has designed her own orange shirt to help her school purchase educational resources about the residential school system. Cali Baldwin has designed a T-shirt to raise awareness of residential schools and the Indigenous children that lost their lives while attending them.
Cali, who is part Kanyen’kehà:ka (known as Mohawk in English), has a grandmother and family who are residents of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Her family decided to decorate with orange instead of red this year for Canada Day, explained Cali, “but I didn’t really understand why.”
Her mom explained that orange shirts are used to recognize the harm done to Indigenous children by the residential school system in Canada. Cali’s mom, Ashley Murphy, said, “When Cali learned what had been done, the first thing she said was, ‘Why would anyone want to take that part of someone away? It’s the best part of me.'”
Cali said she drew an orange shirt of her own with the words “We’re still here” on it, though, at the time, she didn’t know that she would start making and selling them. She chose purple as an accent colour because “whenever we go to a pow-wow there are lots of purple and orange decorations there.”
Cali is hoping her classmates and staff at J.J. O’Neill Catholic School in Napanee will purchase and wear the t-shirts to remember what Orange Shirt Day is all about and “so we can buy the books for everyone to read.”
The Orange Shirt Day movement began in 2013, when residential school survivor, Phyllis Jack Websted, shared her story at a Saint Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion event held in British Columbia. September 30, the annual date of the event, signifies the time of year when Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to residential schools.
When she was just six years old in 1973, Phyllis Websted lived with her grandmother on the Dog Creek Reserve in Manitoba. In her biography, Websted explained, “We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!”
However, when she got to the Mission, she was stripped of everything, including her bright orange shirt, “I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
That story was made into a children’s picture book in 2018 by Websted and Medicine Wheel Education. In June of 2021, the federal government announced the creation of a new statutory holiday known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to be recognized on September 30 each year. This day fulfills the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ‘call to action’ #80 and will serve as a day of remembrance, reflection, action and learning. The City of Kingston has also declared the date a civic holiday.
Truth and Reconciliation ‘call to action’ #80 reads, ”We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Jillian Perreault, Cali’s fifth-grade teacher, said, “I am extremely proud of her efforts. I had a lot of people come to me and talk about how wonderful it is, but I always tell them that this was Cali’s initiative. Cali’s mom sent me an email in the summer asking me what I thought about it and how we could get the school involved. But Cali came up with the designs, and I just said I would be the school connection to help get the word out. I’m so proud of her and I think with the exposure and the feedback that Cali’s been getting, she can carry that confidence into a lot of other areas.”
For Cali, when she thinks of the slogan ‘Every Child Matters,’ to her it means, “It doesn’t matter what shape or size, or where you’re from, or what you look like, you matter.”
If you are interested in learning more or purchasing one of Cali’s shirts you can contact the Facebook group Cali’s Orange Shirt.