A flag-raising ceremony was held Wednesday at Saskatoon city hall honouring victims of Canada’s residential schools, and kicking off a month of activities aimed at promoting reconciliation.
Among the speakers at the event was Eugene Arcand. As a child, he was taken from his family and forced to attend residential schools in Duck Lake and Lebret for 11 years.
He said that back then, he could never have imagined a time when those schools would be shut down.
“When I was in residential school, it was survival instincts. I can’t say that I ever really (thought about) the future,” he said.
Arcand said he still has trouble reflecting on what he went through — not to mention speaking about it in front of a large crowd of people. He said he’s driven by the memories of friends and family who didn’t survive.
“It’s not something that I always like to do. But it’s also my duty, in honour of those that didn’t get here today,” he said.
Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas said seeing traditional ceremonies and hearing the national anthem sung in Cree were powerful symbols.
“One of the things that residential schools tried to do was a cultural genocide, where we weren’t allowed to practice our ways and speak our language. And now have an opportunity here to practice our ceremonies and speak our language, and do it in a public square in front of city hall. That’s quite a turnaround,” he said.
A calendar of June’s reconciliation events is available on the Office of the Treaty Commissioner’s website.