Orange shirts selling by the thousands as Londoners support residential school survivors

Orange shirts are flying off shelves as more Londoners plan to wear them on Canada Day to raise awareness of the lasting impact of residential schools and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community.

More than 2,000 shirts have been sold and more orders are expected

The shirts from Atlohsa Family Healing Services are part of their Relighting the Fire of Hope campaign, which was created to inspire awareness, action and change. (Submitted by Atlohsa Family Healing Services)

Orange shirts are flying off the shelves as Londoners answer the call to wear them on Canada Day to raise awareness about the lasting impact of residential schools and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community.

"We have been printing non-stop," said Adam Sturgeon, operator of Rezonance Printing, who is working in partnership with Atlohsa Family Healing Services and a local Indigenous artist to get shirts out, with proceeds going to a good cause.

Across Canada, there have been growing calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations in light of the revelations of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

In London, in southwestern Ontario, an Indigenous advocate is organizing a healing walk in Victoria Park on July 1 and encouraging people to wear orange shirts, the colour used to honour residential school survivors.

Atlohsa's shirts were designed by Hawlii Pichette, a Mushkego Cree (Treaty 9) artist and illustrator. The design on the shirt features a flame in the centre that contains the silhouette of two children's faces, representing those who were forced to attend residential school, their spirit and their experience, Pichette said. 
Hawlii Pichette, a Mushkego Cree artist and illustrator, said she's happy so many people are supporting Atlohsa's campaign and feels honoured to have been able to design the shirts. (Submitted by Hawlii Pichette)

The flame is encircled by the outline of a turtle, which represents truth.  

"I chose to use that because I feel like the Every Child Matters campaign is about raising awareness. And awareness, of course, is truth," said Pichette.

On the back, the shirts read, "Awareness Inspires Action." 

"I think it's important [for people to wear these shirts], but this is the crust of the surface," said Sturgeon, who's from the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation. "Wearing orange is something that we have to do to start showing solidarity, but action is what we're looking for." 

Sturgeon's word were echoed by Alana Lees, director of development at Atlohsa Family Healing Services. 

"I don't want people to get caught up in the diffusion of responsibility to say, 'OK, I got my orange shirt, I'm good.' This is just the beginning.

"I think it's really great that a collective awakening is happening right now, but I think it's important the conversations continue ... We need the non-Indigenous community to share their voice, stand tall, write to our MPs and be our allies."

People ready to listen

Lees, whose mother, aunts and uncles are residential school survivors, said the findings of the remains of hundreds of children near former residential school grounds have reopened deep wounds for her.

"I've heard the atrocities from their lips of the things that have happened to them in the past and it trickles down," she said.

However, she finds a bit of comfort in feeling that one positive came out of the latest discoveries, which she deems everything but a coincidence, and that's the fact it happened during a time she firmly believes people are ready to show their support toward the Indigenous community. 

"I feel like people are ready now to listen," Lees said.

"Those children represent the seeds of knowledge, and they are still doing their work from the grave. They were unearthed at the time that they were, so that they could help us have a platform to communicate at a time when people were able to listen, to hear and to help." 

Proceeds from shirt sales support Mino Bimaadiziwin

As of Monday, more than 2,000 shirts had been sold, quadrupling regular sales, Lees said.

The shirt design features a flame in the centre that contains the silhouette of two children's faces, representing those who were forced to go to residential school, and their spirit and experience. (Submitted by Hawlii Pichette)

Their sale is part of a bigger campaign called Relighting the Fire of Hope, which aims to inspire awareness, action and change.

All proceeds will go toward the agency's Mino Bimaadiziwin program, which supports children, youth and caregivers who have experienced violence and unhealthy relationships in the home or community.

While people can still get their shirt order in and potentially have it ready for pickup on Wednesday, Lees said people can buy this summer for Orange Shirt Day in September.

"It's Orange Shirt Day every day, so we do hope that people don't think that this is the end. This is actually just the beginning." 

Lees said those looking for ways to further support the community can do so by doing research, learning about the local Indigenous communities, and supporting Indigenous businesses and raising awareness, whether it's talking to neighbours or writing local politicians.