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Orange Shirt Day Background

Orange Shirt Day background and history

Orange Shirt Day is celebrated annually on September 30 in honor of the indigenous Canadian children who were sent to residential schools and forced to assimilate into the dominant Canadian culture. This year the Oregon Department of Human Services Office of Tribal Affairs and the We Are Here Oregon Natives Employees (WAHONE) Resource Group invite you to honor Orange Shirt Day on Friday September 29, 2023. American Indian and Alaska Native communities have honored Orange Shirt Day in solidarity as many of tribal families were subject to the same residential boarding school system that was referred to as the “Indian Boarding School System” in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 2022 report, between 1819 and 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system operated more than 400 schools across 37 states or then-territories, including in Alaska and Hawaii. More than 40 of these boarding schools were in New Mexico – the third highest in the United States, behind Oklahoma and Arizona. As early as 1859-1860, boarding schools were established on reservations in Washington and Oregon, the first at Fort Simcoe on the Yakama Reservation in Washington. In 1874, a boarding school was built at Warm Springs in Oregon, and others were later constructed at Siletz, Grand Ronde, Klamath, and Umatilla. Today, Chemawa Indian School, located in Salem, Oregon is an accredited high school that serves American Indian and Alaska Native students. Chemawa is the oldest continuously operated off-reservation boarding school in the United States.

The federal Indian boarding school system deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies in an attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; cutting the hair of Indian children; discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions and cultural practices; and organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills.

The annual Orange Shirt Day opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of the Residential/Indian Boarding School system. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of these schools and the legacy they have left behind. A day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those that have been affected. Every Child Matters, even if they are an adult, from now on. This day reminds us to support the survivors and stand against all forms of racism, including systemic racism, and bullying in our societies.

 Join Oregon's Orange Shirt Day activities