Eugene Arcand was among those who gathered Wednesday in Saskatoon to share stories and prepare for Orange Shirt Day — a day to honour residential school survivors, observed annually around the country on Sept. 30.
And on this day, he insisted he be called not only by his name but also by his residential school number: 781.
“Unfortunately it brings back memories, but it means a lot to have the orange T-shirt used for public education and understanding,” Arcand said at a news conference held Wednesday, in the lead up to Orange Shirt Day.
Arcand, from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, spent 11 years at two Saskatchewan residential schools. He was also the province’s representative on the Indian Residential Schools Survivor Committee, an advisory board to the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.
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A shameful legacy
The residential school system arrived in Canada in the 1880s. By the time the last school closed in the 1990s, 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children had been removed from their communities.
Arcand said that taking children from their homes has left a terrible and lasting legacy for Indigenous communities. He said events like Orange Shirt Day keep the stories alive and shed light on the struggles communities are still facing.
“There has to be a level of understanding in regards to the social ills that the Indigenous community live on a day-to-day basis in Western Canada,” he said.
Orange Shirt Day began back in 2013. The reference to the orange shirt comes from an account of Phyllis Jack, a residential school survivor, having her new orange shirt taken away from her on the first day of school.
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The day was officially recognized by the Saskatchewan School Boards Association last year. This year, schools in Saskatoon have been running educational activities in the weeks leading up to the 30th.
As Orange Shirt Day falls on a non-school day this year, schools across Saskatoon will participate by running educational activities on Friday, according to the city’s website.