Members of Indigenous communities, survivors of the residential school system and allies gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square Thursday afternoon to commemorate Orange Shirt Day.
The demonstration was organized by the Matriarchal Circle, a grassroots organization of Toronto-based Indigenous women seeking to fight back against the lasting impact of colonial forces on Indigenous communities.
The ceremony featured speeches from survivors of residential schools and event organizers, as well as an Indigenous drumming circle.
Speakers and organizers addressed various issues facing Indigenous communities, including the legacy of the residential school system and lack of resources for Indigenous peoples suffering from homelessness or drug addiction.
Benesi Ogichidaa, a member of the Matriarchal Circle, condemned the continuous unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government and justice system.
Indigenous people account for only five per cent of the general population, but make up more than 30 per cent of the country’s prison population, according to the Government of Canada.
“Can you imagine the prisoners that are locked behind those bars by themselves, taken away from their families,” said Ogichidaa. “They’re the descendants of residential school survivors and, to this day, they go through so much. They’re not allowed to see counsellors. They have a hard time getting medicine. They’re locked away like animals.”
Joey Twitch, a survivor of the residential school system, spoke about the purpose of Orange Shirt Day and the continued efforts behind Indigenous reconciliation.
“We’re here because we have a victory to win. We are at war, and we will stay at war until all the children come home and until the [Canadian government] honours our treaties.”
Orange Shirt Day originated in 2013 by Phyllis Webstad from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. At age six, Webstad was put into a residential school. Her grandmother bought her an orange shirt for her first day.
But it was taken away from her, along with other belongings, and never given back. Orange Shirt Day represents the unjust experiences that Webstad and other Indigenous children faced.