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Making profit off of pain: that’s how Snuneymuxw First Nation member and carver Noel Brown describes companies cashing in on national sentiment by selling knock-off orange shirts for Orange Shirt Day.
It’s a practice that leaves a bad taste in his mouth. Which is why this past Sept. 30 — recognized annually as Orange Shirt Day and for the first time this year as a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — he and his wife Tammy Brown donated the net proceeds from the sale of 100 orange shirts they purchased (and had specially designed for the occasion) to two causes near and dear to their hearts: Snuneymuxw First Nation’s search for unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Nanaimo “Indian Hospital” and Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services.
The shirts bear a screened image of the lower part of Noel’s welcoming pole which was unveiled at Swy-a-Lana Park on Sept. 30 and formed part of the day’s ceremonies.
The screening was provided by Nanaimo-based Senini Graphics — with whom Noel has had a long-standing working relationship. In a lovely display of community support, the custom shirts were sold in record time by Michelle Corfield, a devoted community volunteer and local business leader.
Tammy sums up the motivation behind the idea and the donation: “The money helps the children of the future and the children of the past.”
As many will know, Orange Shirt Day was inspired by the story of residential “school” survivor Phyllis Webstad, who is Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band).
Phyllis was six years of age when she attended St Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake for the first time wearing a brand new “shiny orange shirt” bought by her grandmother. When she arrived at the school her shirt was taken away, never to be worn again.
Since 2013 Canadians have worn orange shirts on Sept. 30 in recognition of residential school survivors, and to remember those who didn’t make it home.
Following the confirmation of 215 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory, people across the country were encouraged to wear orange shirts every Monday.
The pairing of Orange Shirt Day with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this past year added to an already unprecedented demand for orange shirts.
Unscrupulous companies with no Indigenous ties saw an opportunity to make a fast buck, leading the Better Business Bureau to issue a statement warning consumers of counterfeits.
There are orange shirts officially sanctioned each year by the Orange Shirt Society, the non-profit organization based in Williams Lake, B.C. where Phyllis resides and where Orange Shirt Day began. They don’t directly produce or sell shirts, but they partner with retailers who do: those retailers then donate some or all of the proceeds back to the society.
The society’s purpose is three-fold: support Indian residential school reconciliation, create awareness of the impacts of those schools, and forward the concept that “Every Child Matters,” as explained on its website.
Other individuals and organizations create and sell shirts with their own design for Orange Shirt Day and donate some or all of the proceeds to the society or organizations that support the Orange Shirt Society’s purpose. The Orange Shirt Society told The Discourse in an email they wholly support such endeavours, which they believe honour the intent and integrity of the day.
But the society acknowledges that there are knock-offs being sold by people wanting to capitalize on the momentum of the moment, and they encourage people purchasing Orange Shirt Day items to “ask questions, find out about the artist, and ask where the proceeds from their purchase are going.”
The Orange Shirt Society also has a list of retailers on their website; you can purchase from these retailers and be sure that proceeds from your purchase are going to the right place.
Noel is not the only local artist to give back to the community for Orange Shirt Day. Acclaimed Coast Salish artist and storyteller from Snuneymuxw, Hupacasath and Penelakut First Nations, Kwulasultun (Eliot) White-Hill, donated his own digital design to the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre to create an orange shirt which was distributed on campus.
Meanwhile, Snuneymuxw First Nation and Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services are grateful recipients of proceeds from Noel and his collaborators’ generous initiative.
“It was an awesome feeling donating the money,” he says. “And the recipients were happy and proud.” [end]