Orange Shirt Day 2021

Orange Shirt Day is an annual national event that is held on September 30th. It is a day to honour Residential School survivors and their families, and to remember those who did not survive. Orange Shirt Day started as a movement to bring forward the truth about Canada’s Residential School system. This year is the first year that Canada acknowledged this date as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Keep reading for more background on Orange Shirt Day, and information on how we acknowledged this important date at Gordon Neighbourhood House. We also shared further resources earlier this year, which can be found HERE.

Orange Shirt Day Background

Residential Schools were in existence from 1831 until 1996. They were government funded, and church run “schools”, established to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian society. The goal of these schools was to break the children’s ties to their language, traditions and families. Many children experienced the worst neglect and abuse imaginable at the hands of their teachers and people responsible for running the schools. Several thousand children died while under the care of the government. (resource: www.cedarhilllonghouse.ca)

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s account of losing her shiny new orange shirt on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually.  September 30 was chosen because children are back in school and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the year. Orange Shirt Day is also an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and community agencies to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.

“I want to release what is inside of me. All that fear. All that anger. All that pain. I want all of Canada to know why we are the way we are today.” – EDDY CHARLIE

Eddy Charlie, Kristin Spray & Bear Horne

Xe Xe Smun’eem – Victoria Orange Shirt Day is an annual event in the city of Victoria to honor and recognize Residential School survivors. The event is held each September 30th in Downtown Victoria.

Victoria Orange Shirt Day was initiated in 2015 by Residential School survivor Eddy Charlie and his friend Kristin Spray while attending the Indigenous Studies program at Camuson College. Today, the event is attended by thousands of people from across the city of Victoria seeking to recognize the sacrifices of residential school survivors.

Eddy and Kristin have made enormous contributions to the Orange Shirt Day movement. Together, they have volunteered tens of thousands of hours to raise awareness about residential schools, meeting with community groups, public officials, schools and anyone else interested in honouring survivors. They routinely provide workshops for neighbourhood house staff. Eddy and Kristin also order and distribute orange shirts to members of the community looking to participate in Orange Shirt Day.

The design was created by Tsawout Artist Bear Horne. Bear’s design includes a bear to help us follow the right path, an eagle to help us have a vision of a bright future, a hummingbird to keep our mind, body and spirit healthy, and a flower to feed the connection of all these elements.

This year The Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC bought and distributed 365 Xe Xe Smun’eem Orange Shirts and 54 copies of Phyllis Webstad‘s books in the lead up to September 30th. We chose to distribute Xe Xe Smun’eem Orange Shirts based on a decades-long relationship between Gordon House and Eddy Charlie. We are proud of our friendship and work together with Eddy and Kristin, and are honoured to distribute these shirts to members of our community.

100% of all proceeds raised went to Victoria Orange Shirt Day. Thank you to all who wore an Orange Shirt on September 30th, and all year round. 

Story Time – with Jaylene Tyme

On the evening of Tuesday 28th September the legendary Jaylene Tyme hosted an intimate and intersectional story time for our whole community.

Jaylene Tyme is a proud Indigenous Two Spirit Trans human from Zagime Anishinabek, Kawacatoose and Metis Nation Saskatchewan – Treaty 4. As a celebrated make up artist, preformer and LGBTQ2S+ ambassador, she believes that it is important to celebrate the power of community by contributing to the energy of our world with passion and positivity. Together for each other, we have the opportunity to inspire and educate. Our identities, beautifully diverse and wonderfully unique.

Jaylene shared stories about diversity and Indigenous visibility. Jaylene read aloud two stories for the attendees – “Phyllis’s Orange Shirt” by Phyllis Webstad and “Juliàn Is A Mermaid” by Jessica Love.

This was a magical evening for everyone in attendance, with one child giving the ultimate high praise of I am adding Jaylene to my adult friends list’.

Resources for Relearning & Action


Sensory Friendly Pride

Vancouver’s West End is well-known for its inclusive atmosphere anytime of the year, but especially during the summer months when the 2SLGBTQAI+ (Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Asexual/Aromantic, Intersex, and Questioning) community celebrates Pride.

While the annual Pride Parade and street parties are favorite events of the year for many people, the festivities can be overwhelming for neighbours who identify as autistic. This is problematic as neurodiverse folks are twice as likely to identify as 2SLGBTQAI+ than their neurotypical peers, yet it can be difficult to find comfortable spaces to connect and celebrate.

Making space for marginalized communities is what Pride has always been about. This year Gordon Neighbouhood House partnered with Anna Jackson to host a Sensory-Friendly Pride event. We spoke to Anna about the importance of Pride events for queer autistic and neurdiverse folks.

Q. Let’s talk about language. The recent trend has been ‘person first’ language, like “people with disabilities” or “people with autism”. The community has been challenging that recently, saying ‘autistic people’ or ‘disabled people’ directly. Why is that?

Anna Jackson: Great question. Indeed, in the autistic community the vast majority of people use identity-first language, as in “I am autistic”. However, there are people who prefer person-first language. So, even though using identity first language is a fairly safe bet among autistic people, it is worth checking with each person individually. As for why identity-first language is on the rise: 1) we don’t think of autism as a disease or a disorder, it is just a different way of being in the world; and 2) like for example being gay or Canadian, being autistic is an identity which can’t be separated from our experiences.

Q. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about autism. Much of it stems from a pretty problematic history involving Nazis, conversion therapy, and more. What can you tell us about the history of assimilating autistic people? 

Anna Jackson: Oh, I can talk about all of those things for hours! But, in a nutshell, Asperger (the person Asperger’s syndrome was named after) was a Nazi collaborator who sent children to be murdered. For that reason, a lot of us autistics who previously identified as Aspies, no longer do so. Moreover, the most widely used therapy for autistic people, called Applied Behavioural Analysis or ABA was created by Ivar Lovaas at UCLA. At the same time as Lovaas was developing ABA he was also working with researchers working on the “Feminine Boy Project”, which developed gay and trans-conversion therapy. Lovaas, did not think we autistics are even really people. He once said in an interview:

“You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense — they have hair, a nose and a mouth — but they are not people in the psychological sense. One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person.”

So, the autism industry has very disturbing roots that unfortunately still define our everyday life as autistic people today. We don’t need to be cured or treated, what we need is to be accepted. If any of the readers want to read more about this topic, I recommend Jake Pyne’s (2020) paper “Building a Person: Legal and Clinical Personhood for Autistic and Trans Children in Ontario.”

Q. What’s stimming? 

Anna Jackson: Stimming is repetitive action or movements, and autistics often stim. This may relieve or alleviate anxiety or other deal with discomfort in general, and autistics often report getting some comfort from stimming. Suppressing stimming can thus become very uncomfortable, and unnecessarily so. Stimming is often one of the behaviors that “therapy” attempts to “control” (as if it needs to be controlled). Discouraging stimming is harmful, as this is our way of self-regulation. Examples of stimming include: hand flapping, hair twirling, rocking, or sniffing a comforting smell.

Q. One concept we’ve been hearing about lately from the autistic community is ‘masking’ – what is masking?

Anna Jackson: Autistic masking occurs when an autistic person attempts to present so as to seem to be as neurotypical as possible to others. Certain behaviors that one might normally engage in for comfort, but which one has been told are off-putting to others, such as stimming, might be suppressed, while other behaviors that one might not normally engage in, such as full eye contact with others while talking, is consciously employed. It is, indeed, like putting on a mask so that one’s true self is hidden. Many autistics have expressed a perceived need to mask due to years of having been (loudly and repeatedly) told such things as “Look at me when you talk to me!” 

Masking at some stage becomes an automatic social tool to make interacting with neurotypicals less stressful, but the party who is less stressed as a result of masking is the neurotypical person, not the autistic. For the autistic, masking can be utterly exhausting: suppressing stimming and making prolonged eye-contact can both be quite distressing to an autistic person. Putting on this mask while at the same time trying to navigate complex human relationships and interactions, when extended over long periods, can lead to major mental health issues. Continuous masking across years has been known to lead to more dire periods complete collapse or, as we call it – burnout.

Autistics do not mask in order to appear to be someone they are not for their own benefit: they do so because they have been conditioned by society and their upbringing to consider the comfort of others before their own identity and well-being. We are just as human as everyone else and like everyone else we want companionship and a sense of belonging and masking is one means of meeting these needs: if people are more comfortable with eye contact or “pleasant” small talk — many autistics will learn how to play this role in short bursts, even with the associated psychic discord this can trigger.

Q. We recently worked together to host a sensory-friendly Pride. Why are sensory-friendly Pride events so important for neurodivergent folks?  

Anna Jackson: There are a lot of queer autistics out there. We are actually more likely to identify as LGBTQ2S+ than neurotypical people. So, Pride is important to so many of us. That said, Pride is usually very loud, colorful, and crowded. Most autistic people have sensory issues that make them sensitive to loud sounds, bright colors, smells, and the general busy atmosphere of a Pride parade. So, being in a sensory non-friendly environment for a prolonged time can cause a sensory over-load in an autistic person, which in turn can lead to a melt down and over negative consequences. Thus, sensory-friendly Pride is so important to us. We want to be out and proud like everyone else, we just need a chill environment to do so sometimes.  

Q. How can I be a better ally to Autistic and neurodivergent folks?  

Anna Jackson: As I mentioned before, as neurodivergent people we need acceptance. So, accepting us for who we are is the most important step towards true allyship. Moreover, listen to neurodiverse people. After all, we are the experts at being us. Finally, you can support autistic self-advocacy organizations like Autistics United Canada, instead of supporting organizations that speak for us.

Q. Where can I learn more?! 

Anna Jackson: There are so many great resources out there that are made by neurodivergent people. But a good place to start would probably be Neuroclastic (https://neuroclastic.com/). It is a website that publishes articles by autistic creators discussing various issues in the community.