A Simple Orange Gesture

The second annual National Truth and Reconciliation Day has passed – September 30th. It was a single day, though every day qualifies, to honour lost children and survivors of residential schools. Events and gatherings were organized in many locales. The simplest way to honour, to share, to show support was to wear orange. The movement is growing across the country for sure and for this I am grateful, and it restores my hope that change, real change, is within reach and is already happening.

I saw photos and video from Fort Frances on the day of remembering. I was in awe and filled with pride. I have played the videos over and over and over, studying each photo for every tiny detail so that I wouldn’t miss anything. The Awareness Walk ending at the Nanicost Residential School Monument, followed by lunch and speakers, and many groups coming together for a joint powwow all marked the day. How happy I would have been to be there, bearing witness and sharing my support.

I spent the day with my granddaughter. I wore orange all week to exercise my commitment to educating myself further, to remind myself of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. Abby and I pulled on our orange clothing the morning of September 30th. I explained to her in simple terms what the day was about. Abby’s teacher had discussed the purpose of the day with her students. Many children, hopefully most young children, struggle to understand or even comprehend the “taking” of children from their families, from their homes, from their communities, some of them never to return. When Abby is tucked into bed at night, she is safe from harm, safe from abuse, safe from hunger and neglect. Thankfully. If only that were so for all children.

Abby and I had plans for the day and we headed out early. A picnic was on our list on a gorgeous warm sunny day. Abby and I waved at everyone we saw wearing orange. I wanted to do my own survey of awareness and participation. I stopped in at Superstore and Sobeys in Windsor (the Nova Scotia Windsor). Not an orange t-shirt in sight. I walked into Tim Horton’s and inquired of the young man behind the counter if he had considered wearing an orange t-shirt today. “What for,” was his confused response. “For National Truth and Reconciliation Day,” I said and smiled at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said and shrugged and wandered off before I could ask him anything more. I looked around the dining area – no orange t-shirts. A day earlier, I was getting groceries in a Sobeys in New Minas, Nova Scotia. The store was packed and the woman in front of me asked the checkout person why the store was so busy. He explained that many people thought the next day (September 30th) was a holiday. “But it is only a national holiday, not provincial,” he explained to her. “So, we’ll be open,” he said. I had my orange t-shirt on and explained to them both that I had been wearing orange all week because I thought I might act as a reminder and someone would see my orange and think yes, that’s something I can do. “We’ve been given permission to wear orange tomorrow,” the young man said, nodding. “Permission?” I queried. “Yah,” he said. “Sobeys doesn’t supply orange t-shirts.” That fact was disappointing, and it got me thinking …

I imagined the impact these enormous corporations could have on the communities they rely on for business, had they provided an orange t-shirt for their staff, in recognition of a national commitment to be aware, an act of support and solidarity to learn, to do better. Here was an opportunity to demonstrate the human side of their business structure. Here was an opportunity to raise their hands to be counted as forward thinkers, a simple inexpensive gesture.

Participation and awareness are expanding. Fort Frances is one example of embracing the day with vigour and enthusiasm. My daughter is a principal of a large elementary school in Surrey, British Columbia. She received a call from the school’s supplier of orange t-shirts which formed part of the school’s engagement with the nationally recognized day. The supplier had been overwhelmed with orders and they were struggling to meet the demand. The woman making the call put Aimee in touch with a competitor and Aimee was able to have t-shirts ready for her students. “Overwhelmed with orders” as compared to last year is a great sign, a good problem to have, and a strong indicator of an increase in awareness. It may be just an orange t-shirt, but it means so much more. I am nodding as I write this, telling myself that yes, we are learning, we are moving in the right direction. Maybe I’ll wear orange every day until the world is righted.

wendistewart@live.ca