News Release

What Orange Shirt Day Teaches Us About the Second Great Commandment to “Love One Another”

Latter-day Saint woman teaches her children about National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Sam Urano has many identities. She is a lawyer, wife, mother of two, member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and member of the Métis Nation, with roots in the Red River Settlement in Manitoba.

All these self-identifiers are important to her, and in the days leading up to Orange Shirt Day, she places special emphasis on teaching her children about their collective Indigenous heritage.

“I want my children to know who they are, where they come from and to feel proud of their Indigenous heritage,” Urano says.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, provides Urano and other parents across Canada the opportunity to be part of the conversation about Canada’s troubled history with its Indigenous people and to emphasize the second great commandment to love our neighbour (see Matthew 22:39).

What is Orange Shirt Day?

When Phyllis Webstad, Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band), was 6, she was taken away from her family and culture like many other Indigenous children and sent to a residential school. Before leaving home, her grandmother bought her a bright orange shirt with laces up the front. Webstad loved it. Upon arriving at school, her clothes were replaced with a uniform, and she never saw the precious shirt again.

Webstad wrote: “The color 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. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Orange Shirt Day, September 30, is a day to honour the Indigenous children who were forcibly sent to Canada’s residential schools. Approximately 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were placed in various church-run schools between the 1860s and 1990s. They were not allowed to speak their ancestral languages and were forced to adopt Christianity in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian society. In 2008, the government issued an official apology to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

How to Teach Children

“It’s not enough to remember only on September 30 those children who were affected by residential schools,” said Urano, who articled with Legal Aid BC; advocated at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia; and previously worked in family and child protection law. “On this day, it’s about the future and how we can take positive steps toward reconciliation. And there’s no better place to start than with our children.”

Aside from dressing her preschool-aged children in orange shirts on September 30, Urano reads them age-appropriate books about residential schools and teaches them about their Métis history, heritage and culture.

Urano talks to her 4-year-old daughter about how Indigenous children would have felt “to be taken away from their families and communities at a young age and not to be allowed to speak their own language anymore.” Urano explains, “She and I have talked about what effect this had on those children and what we can do about that now. I talk to my children about being kind to everyone.”

Urano and her children are proud to wear their floral beadwork moccasins, crafted by one of her many Métis cousins. The Métis people are known as the “Flower Beadwork People.”

As a member of Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC), Urano receives packages from MNBC containing stories, crafts and Métis sashes that assist her in teaching her children about their heritage.

Be Kind

“This is not ancient history,” says Urano. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.

“As an articling student with Legal Aid BC, I represented Indigenous parents in court. I saw the residential school system’s continuing effects on parents and children. The removal of children from their parents at a young age prevented growing children from learning good parenting skills and caused them to lose their traditional languages and their connection to their culture. These losses are passed down from generation to generation and are still being felt today.”

Urano believes it is important that the wider population of Canada knows about the factors that contributed to the challenges facing many Indigenous peoples today. Otherwise, non-Indigenous people may not feel as empathetic and kind. “Everyone has a role to play in furthering reconciliation,” she says.

Every Child Matters

“We are all children of God,” says Urano. This is the underlying message of Orange Shirt Day, that every child matters. “The Lord values the worth of all His children and we need to follow His example by being kind to people in our family, community, school and country as a whole.”

President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, “We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us. We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other” (“NAACP Convention Remarks,” July 21, 2019).

Contributed by Gail Newbold, Canada Communication Council

Read the story in French

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