While Canada today recognizes the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour the children, survivors, families and communities affected by residential schools, the day has long held significant meaning for the Indigenous community.
Since 2013, Sept. 30 has been Orange Shirt Day, which was started by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad. She wore an orange shirt on her first day at the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in the fall of 1973, which was taken from her by staff.
“The color orange has always reminded me of … 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,” Webstad shared at OrangeShirtDay.org.
Webstad launched the Orange Shirt Society “to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories.”
Last year, the Orange Shirt Society expended into the sporting community with the creation of the Orange Jersey Project, with Webstad’s son, Jeremy Boston, serving as project manager. According to the website, the project was born out of an idea – “What if we could use the power of sport to serve as a vehicle toward educating today’s young athletes about the history of the Indian Residential School System and strengthen the path toward truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.”
As part of that education, each jersey features a QR code that links to an online platform that will help children discover the history of residential schools, with the goal to encourage learning, engagement, sharing and activities.
The project began with hockey jerseys, more than 10,000 of which were distributed to 500 teams from coast to coast to coast last season.
On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, HockeyCanada.ca caught up with Boston to discuss the Orange Jersey Project, continuing his mother’s passion project and what the future holds.
Where did the idea for the Orange Jersey Project come from?
The Orange Jersey Project was created by Tyler Fuller, an Indigenous male from Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan who played pro hockey in the Central Hockey League (CHL) and International Hockey League (IHL). The idea of the Orange Jersey Project was born from an idea that came while Tyler and his wife Amanda were watching the news when the remains of the 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc were uncovered.
Tyler and Amanda came up with the idea to design a hockey jersey as a way to inform people about residential school survivors and victims. Tyler contacted Chief Willie Sellars of Williams Lake First Nation and asked for his guidance. Chief Sellars directed Tyler to Phyllis Webstad, the founder of the Orange Shirt Society, who introduced Tyler to the OSS executive director, who helped get the ball rolling.
Why was it important for the Orange Shirt Society to expend into sports?
Sports, such as hockey, are a great vessel for all Indigenous and non-Indigenous to come together to learn the real history of Canada. The Orange Shirt Society is designed to encourage action for truth and reconciliation and can help educate athletes about the history of the residential school system in Canada. The Orange Shirt Society works to create awareness of the intergenerational impacts of residential schools and the concept of Every Child Matters.
Why is this project important to your family and to the Indigenous community?
Four generations of my family have attended residential schools. My great-grandmother Lena Jack, my grandmother Rose Wilson and my mother Phyllis Webstad attended residential schools. I attended the last operational school in Canada in 1996. It is important for the path of healing and new beginnings in a Canada we all love. To overcome barriers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous to become one and come together as we continue to educate and learn together on our path for truth and reconciliation.
How can interested teams get their orange jerseys?
Teams can visit OrangeJerseyProject.ca to register and request orange practice jerseys, as well as the curriculum program, at no cost, while supplies last.
Once teams have received their jerseys, they’re encouraged to choose several practices throughout the season dedicated to wearing the jerseys and spending a few minutes acknowledging the Treaty Lands upon which they are playing and the Indigenous Peoples who reside there. We also invite teams to participate in team-building activities off the ice to work through the curriculum together.
Hockey was first … which sports are next?
Currently our main focus is hockey, but in the near future we would love to expand into all sports.
For more information: