With the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on the way, many Canadians are trying to get their fingers in an orange shirt to commemorate what was formerly known as Orange Shirt Day.
But recent posts on social media led some natives to ask if a major retailer was trying to monetize the painful legacy of housing schools.
In an Instagram post earlier this week, The Hudson’s Bay Co. said it sells orange shirts with the slogan “Every Child Matters.”
Dani Lanouette, who is Anishinaabe from Neyaashiinigmiing and Algonquins from Barriere Lake, says she had been blocking posts from the dealer on Twitter for years.
“But I saw a tweet … of a screenshot of the post, [and] I was like, ‘oh man, I had to unblock them,’ she said.
“Seeing a company that has a very colonial history — a history of colonial violence in so-called Canada — to see that they were now selling orange shirts actually made me nauseous. It was so rude to me.”
A spokesman for Hudson’s Bay told CBC that the company did not intend to create confusion about the sale of the jerseys and said they were made available for purchase in partnership with the Orange Shirt Society, a BC-based non-profit working to create awareness of the effects of residential schools.
All proceeds from the sale of the orange shirts go to the nonprofit organization “to support their work in commemorating the housing school experience, witnessing and honoring the healing journey of the survivors and their families and in the ongoing process of reconciliation,” the spokesman said in a statement. , which aired on CBC Saturday.
The role of colonization
Hudson’s Bay Co. is one of the oldest companies in Canada, and actually existed long before Canada even became a country in 1867. Before that, the company actually functioned as a de facto government in parts of North America.
“If we look at the area where Hudson’s Bay Co. somehow took over and created all of their trading posts and the like, it’s all native land,” said Lanouette, who became interested in the company’s history as a teenager.
In 1868, a huge chunk of land owned by the company was sold to the Dominion of Canada under The Rupert’s Land Act, which resulted in a large portion of the Prairies – including Manitoba – joining Canada.
The HBC spokesman’s statement said the company “recognizes the role it played in the colonization of Canada” and is proud to work with the Orange Shirt Society “as part of our commitment to truth and reconciliation.”
But for Lanouette, the recent history of the Bay is problematic.
“When we look at their history, even within the last 100 years or so, [Hudson’s Bay had a] role with Inuit [and] the high Arctic relocation program, where families were taken from… northern Quebec to Nunavut, ”she said.
In 1953 and 1955, a group of 87 Inuit were persuaded by the Canadian government to leave their homes in Quebec with promises of better hunting and the possibility of returning in two years – promises that were broken.
“There was only one Hudson’s Bay trading post up there,” Lanouette says and “they really [played] a role in the hunger of indigenous peoples and in food security today. “
For her, the main problem with Bay Now, which sells orange shirts, is the perception the company benefits from the experiences of native survivors who were forced to go to residential schools, many of whom were subjected to horrific abuse.
“I think they should actually just provide compensation without having to sell anything or … trust consumers to make that donation to them by buying a shirt,” Lanouette said.
She also questions how the bay represented the personal story of Phyllis’ Website, which inspired the September 30 Orange Shirt Day observances that came before the newly created National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
In 1973, on Webstad’s first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in BC, the then six-year-old’s favorite orange shirt — which her grandmother had given her — was taken from her as soon as she arrived at school.
The orange shirt has since become a symbol of remembrance for those who were forced to go to residential schools.
In an HBC Instagram story, the retailer stated that Orange Shirt Day “grew out of Phyllis’ account of losing her new orange shirt on her first day of school.”
That’s not true, Lanouette says.
“In fact, it was stolen from her.”