Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Why we wear orange on Orange Shirt Day (and events we can attend)

“It represents an important day of remembrance”

Phyllis Jack Webstad’s story is woven into an orange shirt lost long ago. When she was six years old, her grandmother gifted her an orange shirt for her first day of school. But her first day at residential school didn’t go as either of them expected. Phyllis’s clothes were taken away from her, including the orange shirt.

The orange shirt was never returned to her, but the colour orange always made Phyllis think of her experiences at a residential school.

“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,” she writes.

“All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by Phyllis’s story and launched in 2013. Its goal is to educate people about residential schools in Canada and to honour and remember the experiences and loss of the First Nation, Inuit and Métis children who were stolen from their families and placed in these schools. Sept. 30 represents the time of year when this happened each year.

Dawn Lameman (Accounting ’12, Bachelor of Business Administration ’16), a member of the support staff at the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre  where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students can gather to network and study (virtually only, currently)  sees Orange Shirt Day as an opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of residential schools.

We asked her what it means to NAIT and what we can do in addition to wearing an orange shirt to honour the stories of Phyllis and roughly 150,000 other First Nation, Inuit and Métis children. What does Orange Shirt Day mean for NAIT?

dawn lamemanDawn Lameman: Most people with kids in K-12 education may already know some basic tenets of Orange Shirt Day because it’s part of the curriculum.

It’s not a requirement in a post-secondary setting, but it’s important to remember the lesson behind that coloured shirt.

It’s not just another coloured shirt that you have to find. It represents an important day of remembrance and part of the reconciliation that every post-secondary has as their calls to action [issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada].

What do you feel is the most important takeaway from the day?

The children of residential schools mattered. Their lives matter. A lot of kids never made it home.

We need to honour their lives and keep the conversation going to prevent this type of cultural genocide from ever happening again. We’re still seeing the negative impact and the longstanding effect of the schools.

How do we continue the conversation after Orange Shirt Day?

The Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre is creating a lot of informative virtual offerings; people can stay tuned to that on our website. They’re free and for NAIT staff and students.

Virtual events hosted by NAIT for students and staff

Honour Song, Moment of Silence
Wednesday, Sept. 29 I 9:30 a.m.

Aboriginal drummer Lonny Potts will be leading a traditional honour song for all those who survived residential schools and for those who never made it home. This will be followed by a moment of silence. Additional details will be shared soon!

The History of Residential Schools
Wednesday, Sept. 29 I 10 a.m.

A part of the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre’s Pîkiskwetân “Let’s Talk” Series, this one-hour session covers the history and lasting impacts of the Indian Residential School system in Canada. It will cover topics, including child abduction, cultural genocide, myths, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and recent confirmations of grave sites.

Walking Together: Non-Indigenous Perspectives on Truth and Reconciliation
Wednesday, Sept. 29 I 11:30 a.m.

How can you play a role in truth and reconciliation from a non-Indigenous perspective? In this one-hour session, Naisa Bujold and Tim Ira from NAIT's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion share some of their own insights and experiences as non-Indigenous people living in Canada, followed by an open discussion.

More Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre events

In the months following Thursday, Sept. 30, the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre will hold ongoing Pîkiskwetân “Let’s Talk” Series events on topics related to the sixties scoop, inter-generational trauma, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as other events throughout the year.

Events and activities recommended by NAIT for everyone

Truth and Reconciliation Week - Hosted by National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
Monday, Sept. 27 to Friday, Oct. 1

The programming will feature short videos created by Indigenous storytellers, followed by conversations with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Survivors and the children of Survivors of residential schools. The videos will be supported with classroom activities for students. Enjoy artistic and cultural performances by First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists. There will also be a moving tribute to the Missing Children that never returned home from the residential schools.

Share why you wear an orange shirt
Tuesday, Sept. 27 to Thursday, Sept. 29

We encourage everyone in the NAIT community to wear an orange shirt the week of Sept. 27 to show their commitment toward reconciliation and to honour residential school survivors and those who didn't make it home. There are a few ways for you to share your message:

  • Share a 15-20 second video of you wearing an orange shirt, and saying “I wear an orange shirt because …”
  • Share a photo of you wearing an orange shirt, and write your statement on white paper: “I wear an orange shirt because …”

Share your video or photo on social media tagging @NAIT and using hashtag #orangeshirtday #whywewearorange. If you aren’t on social, send us your video or photo to

Do some reading and viewing

The NAIT Library has created the Sharing Circle Virtual Bookshelf, a curated list of texts and audio-visual materials from its collections on various topics supporting the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre sharing circles.


The Four Directions at NAIT

In 2019, NAIT released “Connecting the Four Directions,” a document meant to guide and inspire staff to find ways to honour Indigenous knowledge and to be more inclusive of Indigenous people and communities.

Led by the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre, it aligns traditional teachings with NAIT’s vision to be a leading polytechnic, and seeks to remove barriers to education.

It was created with input from Elders and cultural advisers from the NAIT community, students, staff at the centre and instructors from across the institute.

Subscribe to receive more great stories every month

Find out more news about NAIT, stories about our alumni and their impact on their communities, and useful how-to content featuring our experts.