Shirts featuring offensive term for Indigenous women pulled from Simons in Calgary after complaints

Denim shirts embroidered with an offensive word referring to Indigenous women have been pulled from the Calgary store of fashion retailer Simons following complaints.

Men's shirt labelled ‘Squaw Valley’ were for sale in downtown Calgary store until Monday

A concerned customer took this photo of the 'Squaw Valley' shirt for sale at Calgary's Simons location for $190. (Mel Vee)

Denim shirts embroidered with an offensive word referring to Indigenous women were pulled Monday from the Calgary store of fashion retailer Simons following complaints.

A photo of the $190 men's shirt, embroidered with a label reading "Squaw Valley" on the front left pocket, was forwarded over the weekend to the Calgary organization Uproot YYC by a concerned member of the Indigenous community.
The 'Squaw Valley' shirt 'is not acceptable in 2017,' says Calgary city council candidate Michelle Robinson. (Mel Vee)

"I was in shock [when I saw it]," said Melanie Hudson of Uproot YYC, which describes itself as a "grassroots collective" that helps amplify the voices of local artists of colour.

Hudson said the woman who took the photo approached the floor manager at the Calgary Simons store, who was alarmed when told what the word "squaw" meant — an offensive term for an Indigenous woman or wife.

"She [the floor manager] said it was up to customers whether they wanted to buy the shirt or not," Hudson said.

"I think this is really harmful and inappropriate. I can't believe this is being sold. Even though I'm not Indigenous, [as a person of colour] I have a sense of what it feels like to be dehumanized and have the use of a particular word to dehumanize us."

'This is not acceptable in 2017'

"This is not acceptable in 2017. It would literally be like having the N-word printed on a shirt and selling it — it's the equivalent for Indigenous people," said Michelle Robinson, a First Nations woman who is running for a Calgary city council seat.

"Once again, we have people that don't understand what slanderous terms are. I want to respect that the store manager is a product of our society ...but that lack of education on Indigenous issues shows that we have a long way to go with racism in this country and this city."

Squaw Valley, located in Fresno County, Calif., is the name of one of the largest ski resorts in the United States and played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics.

However, Hudson believes the name of the resort promoted on the apparel is a deeply disrespectful, racist term that should have caught the attention of someone before it crossed the border.

"The fact is we're not in California. I don't know what kind of relationship they [Squaw Valley] have with Simons, but given Canada's history with Indigenous folks, that it was put on the shelves without prior thought was not wise," Hudson said.

Term promotes stereotypes: entrepreneur

"This is completely not acceptable and should be removed from Simons," said Calgary-based First Nations entrepreneur Nicole Robertson on Monday.

"It's offensive and stereotypes our Indigenous women back to a time when settlers believed that our women were voiceless child bearers, enslaved and subhuman — a notion that needs reassessment, as we still have many MMIWG [missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls] in this country."

Hudson said after multiple complaints were made to the Calgary Simons location by phone, the shirt was taken off the shelf on Monday evening. When CBC News visited the store, the shirt was no longer displayed.

CBC News contacted Simons for this story. 

Hudson said it's a good thing the shirt was removed and that the incident provides an opportunity to initiate change.

"It opens the door and gets people to talk about why this is hurtful," she said.

"I think more education is needed."

About the Author

Brandi Morin

Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News. She is now hard at work striving to tell the stories of Canada's Indigenous peoples to a broader audience.