As a young girl, Phyllis was given a new orange shirt by her grandmother before being taken to a B.C. residential school. The shirt was confiscated and destroyed by her teacher on the first day of class. The destruction of Phyllis’s shirt has come to symbolize the colonial goal of residential schools to assimilate Indigenous peoples.

In 2021, the federal government passed legislation to mark September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.  The implementation of this new federal holiday is an important part of the reconciliation process that has been called for by Indigenous peoples and by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The ongoing recovery of unmarked graves sites near the locations of former residential schools has been a grim reminder of their legacy. CUPE continues to stand with Indigenous communities as they grieve these unjust losses within their communities.

Johnathan Dyer, CUPE 391 Vice President and National Indigenous Council Co-Chair, shared his thoughts on the holiday:

“September 30 is an opportunity to remember the children who never made it home from the residential schools, whether that was physically or spiritually. During my lifetime we have seen these institutions close their doors for good, people refusing to accept what happened and finally these atrocities coming to light for the wider public. When the first 215 children were revealed to the general public through ground penetration software, I had a co-worker state that they never knew children died in these schools. This is why we need days like September 30 to remind us all of the cost the country currently known as Canada came with, and to remember the children who returned to the ancestors too early.”

September 30 is now a statutory holiday for workers in federally-regulated sectors. CUPE has prepared a guide to help members outside the federal sector bargain the new holiday into their collective agreements. The guide is provided to locals as part of CUPE’s commitment to support reconciliation and justice for all Indigenous peoples. What CUPE locals and members can do:

  • Download CUPE’s new guide on bargaining language for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to find out how you can observe the holiday and support reconciliation efforts.
  • Order an Orange Shirt Day t-shirt through the official supplier. Part of the proceeds will go to the Orange Shirt Society.
  • Show your support on social media. Share a photo of yourself wearing an orange shirt using the hashtag #OrangeShirtDay. Tag CUPE on Facebook @cupescfp, Twitter @cupenat and Instagram @cupe_scfp.
  • Download our guide to reconciliation for CUPE locals and consider how you and your local can support the calls to action.
  • Invite an Indigenous speaker to your next virtual meeting to talk about truth and reconciliation.
  • Learn more by taking CUPE’s Indigenous awareness workshop and human rights courses.