What is Orange Shirt Day?

Guest writer

Why Orange Shirt DayAs a recent (Five and a half year) arrival from the UK, perhaps I feel particularly sensitive to what it means to be a ‘settler’ – recognising a legacy of colonialism which has created, to be blunt, a racist, oppressive system and a racist, oppressive mindset which I see almost daily – though it usually seems to be unconscious. I see how the colonial mindset has been passed on – one which has a mistrust of ‘the other’ and seeks to keep oneself ‘safe’ by judging and keeping those who are ‘different’ at a distance and/or at a disad

It’s built into systems which see a higher ratio of Indigenous people, and all people of colour, in relation to the white population, in the prison system; or higher rates of mental health difficulties, addiction, and poverty, in the non-white world. I heard that dismissed by white people as ‘they are just bad’, but I know that not to be so – both through my relationships and through the statistics.  The systems and structures are still in place which keep non-whites down, whether we choose to recognise that or not.  And there is a legacy of oppression and subjugation which white people still benefit from and which people of colour are still wounded and damaged by. 

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One of these legacies is the pain and trauma inflicted by the Residential School System. As a minister of the Anglican Church I have to acknowledge that the Institution I serve was an active partner in trying to “kill the Indian in the Child.”(http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=39)

As a Church we have acknowledged both formally and informally our complicity in these structures and our desire for healing and reconciliation. The apology from the then Primate (leader) of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Michael Peers, given in 1993 is both moving and heartfelt, as well as heartbreaking, and has formed the foundation of the Anglican Church of Canada’s working towards a new relationship with the First Nations of this land since. The text can be found here: https://www.anglican.ca/tr/apology/

This year, on September 30th, my own Diocese of Islands and Inlets (also known as the Diocese of British Columbia – a Diocese is a collection of Why Orange Shirt DayChurches working together to serve a particular area, in this case Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and Kingcome Inlet) had a council meeting (Called a Synod) at which were present a number of First Nations Elders and Representatives – this day was also ‘Orange Shirt Day’ – a day when all are invited to remember and honour those who were victims of the Residential School System.

As a sign of our hope and work towards reconciliation most of the 180 of us who were gathered wore Orange Shirts and we were told by the First Nations present that this was a significant gesture in our continuing journey of ‘Truth-telling, healing and reconciliation’, as our Bishop, Logan MacMenamie, describes it. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, do this not out of a sense of guilt, but out of a desire to put into action what we feel is the calling of the Church.  In one of the books of our Scriptures, the Book of the Letter to the Church in Rome (commonly called Romans) the Apostle Paul writes:

“All this is from God who has reconciled us to Godself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Godself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Paul is talking about the way in which Jesus reached out with love to the world, and in doing so sought to bring us closer to the Divine Life and break down the barriers which we erect between ourselves and God, and ourselves and each other. We believe that this work of Reconciliation is not just a ‘spiritual’ act, but a practical and concrete calling – something we must do as we are compelled by God’s love for the world.  In everyday terms that means learning to be compassionate in all of our relationships, and seeking to be communities (churches) that speak and act with love – in other terms it means that we must approach issues of injustice, social exclusion, racism, and oppression, with a desire to show the love of God in meaningful, practical ways. And not shy away from our calling to be people of justice and peace.

We don’t always get it right, and history is full of the failures of the Christian community which we must acknowledge and seek to learn from, but as we seek forgiveness from God and from our fellow human beings, we hope that this can be a way of moving forward in our journey of faith, hope, and love.

Why Orange Shirt DayThe Ven. Alastair McCollum is Rector of St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria and Archdeacon, Diocese of Islands and Inlets.He has a passion for the Gospel, motorbikes and bike culture, worship, philosophy, theology, guitars, single malt whisky, real ale, cinema and all things French. You can find Alastair at the church website: www.stjohnthedivine.bc.caandon his blog: fracme.blogspot.ca

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE

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