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Canadians urged to partake in Orange Shirt Day to honour residential school survivors

WATCH: Orange Shirt Day in Regina

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott is urging Canadians to wear orange on Sept. 30 as part of Orange Shirt Day, an annual, nationwide effort to recognize the wrongs of the residential school system and honour survivors.

“All Canadians have a role to play in reconciliation,” said Philpott and Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett in a statement.

“On September 30, we encourage everyone to not only wear orange but to also take this opportunity to learn more about the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, and to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s Final Report and Calls to Action.”

READ MORE: ‘It was the worst years of my life’: Alberta elder opens up about residential schools on Orange Shirt Day

The Orange Shirt Day campaign began in Williams Lake, B.C. in 2013 and was inspired by the story of Phyllis Webstad, who was sent to a residential school in 1973 when she was six years old. On her first day, school officials took away an orange shirt that her grandmother bought for her.

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“I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine!” Webstad wrote in a post on the Orange Shirt Day campaign’s website.

“The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.”

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Patricia Lessard, whose company Leading Edge is supplying the official T-shirts for the campaign, says demand this year has been off the hook.

“It went crazy this year. So exciting,” said Lessard, who says thousands of T-shirts have been printed, with orders still coming in.

READ MORE: How Orange Shirt Day honouring residential school survivors came to be

She even had an order from a person in France, who arranged for two t-shirts to be shipped to his parents’ place, from where they were shipped over to Europe.

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Lessard, who will join Webstad in Victoria to participate in the city’s Orange Shirt Day event on Saturday, says she’s honoured to be entrusted with helping share the message.

“It is my part of the journey towards reconciliation. The more I can help bring awareness, the happier I am,” she told Global News.

READ MORE: ‘People need to know our history’: Orange Shirt Day a chance to reflect on residential school impact

Orange Shirt Day T-shirts and other merchandise can be purchased via the campaign’s website, with a portion of proceeds going towards the Orange Shirt Society.

Canada’s residential schools operated from the 1880s until 1996, and were used to assimilate Indigenous children into white Canadian culture. Around 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend the schools, with many of them subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

— With a file from Global News reporter Phil Heidenreich