Has selling orange shirts become commercialized?

'It makes me sick that people are taking advantage of this sensitive day'

By Roderick Benns


As the nation commemorates its first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, at least one local Indigenous man says the holiday is already being tainted by commercialization.

Many retailers are selling orange shirts to mark the day but it doesn’t mean the shirts were made by Indigenous communities.

“I am very upset by this,” says John Stevens, an Ojibway man from Nipissing First Nation who was born and raised in Lindsay. “This shouldn’t be allowed to be commercialized.”

According to the University of British Columbia, the orange shirt significance stems from the story of Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. In 1973, on her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C., Webstad’s new orange shirt was stripped from her, never to be seen again. Forty years later, on Sept. 30, 2013, she spoke publicly for the first time about her experience, which sparked the significance of the orange shirt.

Stevens says “it makes me sick that people are taking advantage of this sensitive day by capitalizing of a very serious and sensitive effort in terms of reconciliation.”

He says people making these orange shirts should need special permission to produce and sell these t-shirts from an Indigenous group. If profits are made, “they are to be given to a local Indigenous group.”

“The intention has to be good and there are too many people profiting on this. It needs to stop locally as well as nationally.”

Lindsay lawyer Chantel Lawton made a public post yesterday on her Facebook page that references this.

“So happy to have my Every Child Matters Orange Shirt for this week. If you haven’t already purchased yours I suggest you visit the Whetung Ojibwa Centre. This shirt was designed by an Indigenous artist and residential school survivor, Freddy Taylor. All proceeds from the sales are being given to the ‘Save the Evidence Campaign’ which is associated with the Woodland Cultural Centre. Make sure when you are buying your shirts for Orange Shirt Day that the proceeds are being directed to appropriate sources and given back to the Indigenous community.”

Pinnguaq, which works alongside rural, remote, Indigenous and other communities, to support the development of STEAM skills for students, says their focus is “on reciprocity with Indigenous communities,” according to Lisa Trefzger Clarke, director of strategic communications.

This includes ongoing training about right relations for our non-Indigenous staff members, integrating the actions of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee into their work, “and listening and walking with the communities to whom we offer services,” says Trefzger Clarke.

“This National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, many of our staff have purchased orange shirts from Indigenous-owned companies, and we will be taking a day of remembrance and reflection. At Pinnguaq, reconciliation is an action we engage in everyday,” Trefzger Clarke says.


Today at 5 pm at the Bobcaygeon Library grounds, everyone is welcome to attend a ceremony to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, according to a media release from the city. Please wear a mask and social distance.

The ceremony will include a land acknowledgement and remarks by Dorothy Taylor from Curve Lake First Nation, the Secwepemc Honour Song, Remarks from local dignitaries, Truth and Reconciliation Community Bobcaygon members will speak to provide information about Sept. 30, the ‘215+ Taken’ art project and the Mishkodeh Centre for Indigenous Knowledge.

For more information: www.trcbobcaygeon.org

–with files from Joli Scheidler-Benns

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