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WNY lights up in support of 'Orange Shirt Day'

Orange Shirt Day is an international day of remembrance to honor the lives of thousands of native children who died because of Residential Boarding Schools.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — September 30th is International Orange Shirt Day. It's a day of significance in the Native Community as the lives of thousands of children were lost because of residential boarding schools.

According to the Canadian Government, there were 140 government-run Indian residential school in Canada over the span of 167 years. Some 150,000 Native children were separated from their families and forced to drop their native languages and cultures, adopting colonial ways to better assimilate into Canada.

Shaun Wilson and his family are of the Mohawk Tribe. Wilson's father attended a Residential Boarding School on the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Canada from the ages of 7 to 16.

"Their cultural identity was ripped from them," Wilson says. "They were forbidden from speaking their native languages. A lot of them were tortured and abused at these schools."

Orange Shirt Day may have started in Canada, but is now recognized around the world. It's an Indigenous effort and movement that celebrates the impact those children had in their fight to keep their native cultures alive.

"In the simplest form, if you're ever wondered how Native Americans lost their language, it's because of these residential boarding schools," Wilson says.

It's about raising awareness and educating, not only younger members of the Native community, but the community-at-large. 

Emma Wilson joined her father, mother and brother outside of the M&T building at 345 Main Street on Thursday night to watch the building light up orange, she tells 2 On Your Side, "I'm wearing this shirt to honor the kids that went through those boarding schools and survived because every child matters and every child that was found matters."

Thousands of children died of disease and other causes and were the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.

"It was very traumatic. Children were cut off from their families," Shaun Wilson shares. 

This year is the first year that M&T Bank is lighting up orange. Wilson, a long-time employee of the bank and president of the Western New York Branch of the Native American Resource Group, says he knows his father would be proud.