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Orange Shirt Day

Posted by Alexandra Dennis on

Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day in Canada

By Ellie Saumier

Today is Orange Shirt Day in Canada, a day to learn more about Residential Schools, their legacy, and work towards reconciliation. I wanted to speak to my fellow babywearing families about what this day means to me as a mother and Indigenous woman. Residential Schools ran across Canada from 1831 and closed as recently as 1996. Indigenous children were mandated to attend the government funded, church run boarding style schools, and parents who opposed were often jailed. Their goal was cultural assimilation, so children were punished for speaking their languages or participating in their own culture. There are numerous reports of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Multiple years of nutritional deficiency studies were unethically performed in some schools without consent or parental knowledge. Due to neglect and abuse, at least 6000 children are estimated to have died (at minimum, 1/25 children), though records are incomplete and to this day bodily remains of children buried haphazardly in unmarked sites are found around the former Residential Schools.
Being a mother, this is unfathomable to consider happening to my son or daughter. I can’t imagine my child being forcibly removed, called by a number, and treated with neglect and abuse. I know this information is uncomfortable to learn, but knowing what happened to these children matters.

 

The present day effects are complex and far reaching. Languages and culture are being revived after being nearly lost forever. Not growing up with parents means multiple generations need to re-learn what it means to function together as a family unit and live with intergenerational trauma. The health inequities for Indigenous People’s are vast, from higher rates of chronic conditions, worse pregnancy outcomes, and shorter life expectancies. The culmination of all this are worse on all levels of social determinants. Indeed, harmful stereotypes that are perpetuated can be tied to colonization and with education and awareness Canadians can challenge their implicit biases.

While Indigenous peoples account for 5% of the population, greater than 50% of children in foster care and the welfare system are Indigenous. Our children are still being taken from us at disproportionate rates, and there is not enough being done to reverse this trend. 

Orange Shirt Day Indigenous Babywearing Mother
 
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report all conclude that there was and still is active genocide against Indigenous people’s, and I couldn’t agree more. It is true that residential schools are in the past, but I think we can all see and acknowledge that the past harms have present day consequences and legacies. You may have no personal responsibility for the past injustices, but each one of us has a collective responsibility to address present day inequalities.
For me, babywearing is an act of rebellion against the oppressive systems. I hold my baby close to symbolize how he can never be taken from me. The same way intergenerational trauma impacts DNA and has heritable effects, recent studies have shown increased DNA methylation resulting positive developmental outcomes in babies that are held more often. 
By wearing my son, I am literally healing his DNA and this will be passed down to all future generations. Babywearing has been cornerstone in our traditional parenthood journey and bringing healing into our lives. Culture has been shown to be protective against mental health effects, and wearing my baby is a form of cultural practice and medicine for us both.

 

The community of babywearing families has been like an extended support system for me. I’ve always felt that many involved in this community were more likely to be open minded and inclusive. Allie, the mama behind LZO, has been in my corner supporting my babywearing journey every step of the way. 

 
When I approached her that I wanted to create educational content surrounding Orange Shirt Day, she was so open to using her platform to help spread the message far and wide. I think this is a beautiful example of how combining our passions and using our networks can be a force of good and positive momentum forward. Ultimately, this day is about communities coming together in a spirit of reconciliation and hope because every child matters.

 

We can’t fix an invisible problem; Orange Shirt Day sheds light on the history and present day injustices that Indigenous peoples face, and I hope it inspires you to continually learn more, and do better today than you did yesterday.

Wear an orange shirt with pride, keep learning, and hold your baby close.

Short bio on me:


Ellie Saumier (she / her / hers) is a wife and mother of two. She is from the Wei Wai Kum band of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, and was born and raised in Campbell River, BC. Ellie had her first daughter at the young age of 17, but after many years of going to school and meeting her now husband Louis along the way, she is now a Resident Physician in Family Medicine through the University of British Columbia. Her daughter is now 12, and her baby boy is 9 months old. Indigenous health and wellness are passions of hers, and she aspires to use her privilege to be an advocate for change and equity. This is the second term that Ellie is a rep for LZO, and she loves to encourage other families to incorporate babywearing into their parenting repertoire. 


Resources:


Official website for Orange Shirt Day, and the background story

Indigenous Designer of the Orange Shirts: Mulidzas-Curtis Wilson

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports and Calls to Action

National Inquiry: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report

Linkage between residential schools and overrepresentation of children in care:

News article, remains of children in unmarked graves.

For any health care providers, San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training:

“Ignored to Death”: Brian Sinclair – how ongoing racism impacts healthcare

Combat racism and become a good ally / ancestor, preorder your book.

And get immediate access to their incredible PDF workbook with this form

Why its important to examine our own privilege.

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