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Cape Cod schools recognize systemic mistreatment of Indigenous children with "Orange Shirt Day"

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Children across the Cape are wearing orange shirts at school today to commemorate the mistreatment of Native children.

“Orange Shirt Day” is an official Canadian holiday that recognizes Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to Residential Schools, where, for 150 years, they were stripped of their cultures and forced to assimilate. Experts say there were at least 523 of these schools across the United States. At least 408 received federal funding.

In fact, by 1926 in America, nearly 83% of Indigenous school-age children were attending boarding schools, according to experts. It’s still not clear how many died while at the schools, but abuse and neglect were rampant.

To commemorate the history educators across the region sent emails to families, inviting students to wear orange shirts at school.

“I would say it's a day to remember all the native children who didn't make it out,” said 16-year-old Jyrsie Alves, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, “and also to honor the people who did make it out and suffer trauma from it.”

The date —September 30th— was chosen because it is the time of year children were taken from their homes to the schools.

Alves said she hopes over the next few days, native and non-native people, alike, will choose to participate and get educated on the history of residential schools.

“I hope in the classrooms teachers will maybe do a lesson about residential schools,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people don't know about what like Natives went through.  They know about all the other stuff in history. But when it comes to Native history, you don't really talk about it. So I think it’s a day for people to be educated.”  

On Saturday, members of the community also plan to demonstratewith posters and signs at the Mashpee Rotary from 1:00 to 3:00. A shuttle will be provided from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Community Center, where a free dinner will be provided after.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.