Friday is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. A Mendota Heights company is marking it, too.

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			Friday is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. A Mendota Heights company is marking it, too.
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A Mendota Heights company is marking Orange Shirt Day, a Canadian grassroots movement to reflect on the treatment of First Nations people in the residential school system.

Patterson Cos., a large medical supplies conglomerate primarily in the business of veterinary and dental products, is promoting the holiday across its North American locations. While only 720 of Patterson’s 7,800 employees are Canadian or work in Canada, the company said it strives to promote holidays and days of remembrance from different cultures and backgrounds.

“Since this matters to Canadians, this matters to Patterson,” said Sarah Schoeneck, media relations manager. “We’re trying to foster a diverse culture and that means celebrating not just American holidays, but other holidays outside of the country.”

Orange Shirt Day falls on Friday, which is also National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, a new statutory holiday that commemorates survivors and victims of Indigenous residential schools. Orange Shirt Day was founded by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, whose favorite orange shirt was taken away on her first day of school.

For the second-annual Orange Shirt Day celebration at Patterson, employees are able to purchase orange shirts through the company and are encouraged to wear them for the day. Several hundred T-shirts were sold across 47 locations in the company.

Proceeds from the shirt sales will be donated to the Squamish Neighbourhood Animal Partnership and Protection Society, which is run by a Canadian residential school survivor. Schoeneck said the company decided to partner with this organization due to Patterson’s involvement in the animal health industry.

This year, Patterson donated nearly $1,600 to S.N.A.P.P.S.

Many initiatives to foster diverse culture at Patterson have been led by the company’s Patterson Affinity Zone group, an employee-led initiative that promotes inclusivity within the company. The group helps provide context and education around holidays that may be unfamiliar to employees, according to Amir Abdou, an integrations consultant at Patterson and a member of the Affinity Zone.

“We’re just trying to educate and help folks who are underrepresented and work with our allies to figure out how we can keep things moving forward,” Abdou said.

While Orange Shirt Day is a holiday celebrated by many Canadians, Abdou said he feels that celebrating the holiday here creates an opportunity for Minnesotans to learn more about the state’s Indigenous communities.

“It’s just important for people and all large companies, especially in the U.S., to learn from this and maybe learn their own ties or their own history,” he said. “Native (Americans) are obviously all over America. So it’s just an opportunity to learn about that history, more than what we were necessarily taught in school.”

Issues of reconciliation and reparations have long been debated in Canada, where the country’s Indian Residential School system, a church-run, government-funded institution, took Indigenous children against their will and subjected them to abuse, neglect and dangerous living conditions as they attempted to assimilate them into white European culture and religion.

Survivors created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of efforts to advocate for recognition and reparations. The commission ran from 2008 to 2015 and afterward released a final report of 94 “Calls to Action” for the Canadian government.

One of these called on the corporate sector in Canada to do its part, according to Ronald Reyes, a category manager at Kane Pet Supplies, one of Patterson’s Canadian companies.

“It’s still going to take generations for this to be rectified and finally get reconciliation,” said Reyes. “But, you know, every small little step that we do today really contributes to that.”

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