Holidizing Tragedy - Reflections on Orange Shirt Day

This year's observance of Orange Shirt Day prompted me to write a post across my social media accounts that I've been putting off for a long time. Not because I was unsure about my opinion, but that I wanted the statement to be delivered on the Day. On any other day, I feared my then-current employer would be assumed to have held the meeting mentioned in the post.

I wrote:
I came to a meeting once, wearing my orange shirt and was greeted with the question, "Did they discover more bodies?" I was speechless.

The fallout from Canada's Indigenous genocide is with us every day. Truth and Reconciliation is needed each day.

Every day is #OrangeShirtDay.

My children have had their own unfortunate experiences with misinterpretations of the Shirt at school. For example, for this year's observance they were horrified to be greeted with "Happy Orange Shirt Day" from classmates in the hallways.

People really don't understand the Orange Shirt. But this is hardly a new phenomenon, or a specifically Indigenous one. My experience with the holidization of tragedy goes back years.

It was a few weeks after Remembrance Day when a colleague took me aside and warned me I should stop wearing the poppy on my lapel.

"Why?" I asked, legitimately confused. They weren't sure of the reason, but were certain that they'd heard from somewhere that it was considered offensive.

As it was the pre-WFH era, with ears everywhere due to the then-revolutionary open floor-plan concept, I dutifully complied. But I've thought about it a lot in the years since, and I'm back to being non-compliant. At the risk of offending someoneand I'm still not sure it's trueI'd like to open a conversation with them about sacrifice and gratitude. Neither diminish in importance over time. Both should be remembered every day of the year.

And so it is with the Orange Shirt.

The Shirt is not like the flagan alteration of day-to-day behaviour in light of a current event. It is not a signal nor a lament for the "new" discovery of bodies.

It's also not costume dress-up or an act of political correctness, as one of my child's teachers suggested. This individual had a crisis of conformity in the middle of the lesson—asking the students how it would affect her reputation if she chose not to wear one, because she didn't agree that a problem with Canada's treatment of Indigenous people really existed. Additionally, that she had her own 'real' tragedy consuming her attentionthe treatment of women in Iran—and she wasn't allowed to wear a shirt about that.

The problem of genocide denial could be another post in itself—probably a seriesas is whether it's possible to care about tragedy that hasn't affected your own demographic. But with the limited time I have to write these days, I'm instead drafting out my concerns to address during upcoming parent teacher conferences this year.

Summing it up:

  • It is not a holiday. Recognizing the injustices of Canada's Indian Residential School System is an act in furtherance of Truth and Reconciliation. At best, the System committed cultural genocide; at worst, it condoned murder. "Happy Orange Shirt Day" makes as much sense as "Happy Remembrance Day".

  • Whether by willing sacrifice or institutionalized genocide, the effects of tragedy—how it changed our countryremains with us year-round.

  • The Orange Shirt is a reminder, like the poppy—lest we forget.  All day, every day, our history is with us.