Orange Shirt Day | BCHydro Power Smart for Schools
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Orange Shirt Day

A hands-on activity for K-3 students that explores Indigenous storytelling and language.

Activity Image
French included
30 mins
Hands on


Students will learn about the origins of Orange Shirt Day, engage with Indigenous stories across B.C., and complete an educational colouring sheet.


What you'll need

  • "Orange Shirt Day story guide" handout
  • "Orange Shirt Day" colouring sheet, one per student
  • Markers and pencil crayons
  • Projector screen and internet to view videos

On September 30th of each year, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians wear an orange shirt to show their support for Indigenous reconciliation across the country.
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 in Williams Lake, B.C. because of the trauma that Phyllis Webstad experienced at a residential school. Phyllis talks about her experience and she says: “I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school. When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.”
Today, Phyllis is married, has one son, a stepson and five grandchildren. She is the Founder and Ambassador of the Orange Shirt Society and tours the country telling her story and raising awareness about the impacts of the residential school system. She has published two books, the “Orange Shirt Story” and “Phyllis’s Orange Shirt” for younger children.

Storytelling instructions

  1. Provide context before reading the story and show a picture (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Orange Shirt Day takes place every year on September 30th. It's a very important day for members of the Indigenous Community.
  2. Read the story of Phyllis Webstad’s personal experience to provide an overview about Orange Shirt Day.  Phyllis is Northern Secwepemc (pronounced suh-Wep-muhc) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She comes from mixed Secwepemc and Irish/French heritage, was born in Dog Creek, and lives in Williams Lake, B.C.
  3. Choose one of the three stories in the "Orange Shirt Day story guide" handout. Play the video recording that accompanies the story. Then lead the discussion with the class by asking the discussion questions. 

Colouring activity

  1. Provide each student an "Orange Shirt Day" colouring sheet.  
  2. Ask students to refer to the “legend” of letters to fill in the blanks in the colouring image – matching the letters to the corresponding symbols to spell the animals and girl’s name. The animals are important images from each of the stories. The girl represents Phyllis Webstad, an important figure for Orange Shirt Day.
  3. In the colouring sheet there's a drawing of a young girl standing before a school. This represents Phyllis Webstad, founder and ambassador of the Orange Shirt Society whose story inspired the origin of Orange Shirt Day. Ask students to colour this young girl’s shirt orange.
  4. Ask students to review the importance of each word and picture based on what was discussed during the storytelling portion of the activity.
  5. Ask students to work in pairs to help each other find the hidden words and pictures and colour them in as they go. Hidden word legend:
    • Coyote – sk’elep (Secwepemc - Williams Lake)
    • Loon – Dadzi (Dakelh/Nak’azdli – Fort St. James)
    • Salmon – Sts’ukwi7 (Squamish)
    • Phyllis Webstad
  6. Ask students to show where they found each of the words and pictures. Ask them to review the meanings to sum up the activity.

Curriculum Fit

Kindergarten - Grade 3

Learning objectives

  • Students gain knowledge and understanding of the importance of Orange Shirt Day.
  • Students learn about the impacts of residential schools.
  • Students are empowered to respond and question history and information.

Curriculum fit

As part of the commitment to honour First Peoples Principles of Learning in the BC Curriculum and residential school survivors, students will learn about the meaning of Orange Shirt Day and its importance.  The learnings and sharings can be linked to numerous aspects of the BC curriculum and especially the personal and social responsibility.  Click on the link for a detailed read on Orange Shirt Day Curriculum. 

Big Ideas

Rights, roles, and responsibilities shape our identity and help us build healthy relationships with others and are important for building strong communities. Learning about Indigenous peoples nurtures multicultural awareness and respect for diversity.

Core Competencies

Personal and Social

Curricular Competencies

  • Recognize causes and consequences of events, decisions, or developments in their lives (cause and consequence).
  • Identify fair and unfair aspects of events, decisions, or actions in their lives and consider appropriate courses of action (ethical judgment).
  • Explain why people’s beliefs, values, worldviews, experiences, and roles give them different perspectives on people, places, issues, or events (perspective).
  • Make value judgments about events, decisions, or actions, and suggest lessons that can be learned (ethical judgment).

Teaching Notes

About the Artist, Nak’azdli First Nation, and Dakelh or Carrier Indigenous People:

My name is Herbert Shane Hartman. I'm a member of the Lhts'umusuyoo or Beaver Clan from the Nak'azdli First Nation. I grew up in the small Northern town of Fraser Lake, BC. It is a great place to visit cousins, aunties, and uncles as well as spending time riding dirt bikes and playing on the lakeshore. I am very honourd and excited to share some of my Indigenous culture with you.

The Dakelh or Carrier are Indigenous people from the Central Interior of British Columbia, Canada. Most Carrier call themselves Dakelh, meaning “People Who go Around by Boat“. For information,visit the Dakelh culture page.

The current population of Nak’azdli is close to 2000 members though only about 700 live “on-reserve.” Most of those living “off-reserve” live in Fort St. James or Prince George. There is also a significant population in Vancouver, but Band Members are scattered throughout BC and beyond.

The cultural relevance of Indigenous storytelling, in the words of the Orange Shirt Day activity illustrator, Herbert Shane Hartman:

“The cultural significance for me as an Indigenous person, is that the stories our Elders and community members shared provided a way for me to share time with other community members. When I was young the stories were cool to hear and made me look at the natural world with different eyes. I knew the stories were just stories, but I liked how we (Indigenous people) looked at the world a little differently.”

Visit Herbert Shane Hartman's website to learn more about the author. 

Important note: respectfully retelling Indigenous stories

  • When retelling or sharing an Indigenous story, respectful protocol is to use public stories that are found on Indigenous websites that have given permission for others to share.  It's also recommended to obtain permission to retell a story.  
  • Stories become more meaningful when they're contextualized. For public stories and stories that you have permission to share, a little bit of research into the history of different elements gives students a connection to the Indigenous stories. 
  • It's also important to acknowledge and share that you are retelling the story and to give proper attribution to the author.   In addition, it is important to maintain the integrity of the story by keeping all key ideas and information to avoid shifting the meaning of the story.


  1. Who are Indigenous peoples? The Inuit, Metis, and First Nations people. 
  2. What are residential schools? Children of the Indigenous people were taken from their families and sent to residential schools.  The goal was to make the children follow a different culture other than theirs.  This happened for many years and stopped in 1996.  Residential schools were not a good place for the Indigenous children.  Many of them were physically and emotionally hurt.  Some never returned home to their families.
  3. What is Orange Shirt Day?  Orange Shirt Day takes place every year on September 30th.  It is a day to remember the people who suffered from the impacts of residential schools. To learn more, you can visit Orange Shirt Day.

Orange Shirt Day image

It's recommended to show an image representing Orange Shirt Day to children, especially children who have newly immigrated here, and may not have heard of Orange Shirt Day. This visual will help young learners make a connection to the material. Here's an example image retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia


Throughout the activity, assess your students’ abilities to:

  • Contribute to discussion about Orange Shirt Day.
  • Ask questions about similarity and differences between stories.
  • Reflect on stories that have different views of nature. 
  • To understand how Orange Shirt Day came to be. 


Select the materials needed in the language you require or download all

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