Manitoba

Indigenous businesses in Manitoba see huge demand for orange shirts ahead of Canada Day

With the push to cancel Canada Day this year growing, some Manitoba Indigenous-owned businesses are seeing huge demand for orange shirts from people wanting to honour Indigenous children sent to residential schools this July 1, instead of wearing red and white. 

Desire to reflect, rather than celebrate, sees some July 1 events changed, other cancelled

Orange shirts have been flying off the shelves at Michelle Cameron's shop. (Darin Morash/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

With the push to cancel Canada Day this year growing, some Manitoba Indigenous-owned businesses are seeing huge demand for orange shirts from people wanting to honour Indigenous children sent to residential schools this July 1, instead of wearing red and white. 

Michelle Cameron, who owns Dreamcatcher Promotions, says her business has been filling hundreds of orders for orange shirts ahead of Canada Day. 

Typically, her business starts getting busy in July filling orders for Orange Shirt Day, a Canadian statutory holiday to remember the survivors of residential schools, which falls on Sept. 30. 

This year, she said demand for the orange shirts started ramping up after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Kamloops in May, and hasn't stopped. 

Some customers have even asked for expedited shipping so they can have their orange shirt ready for July 1, she said. 

"It's nice to see that there's a lot of demand for them and it's really empowering to see everyone's taking part in recognizing that this is a big piece to reconciliation," she said. 

Michelle Cameron owns Dreamcatcher Promotions and INAC-Indigenous Nations Apparel Company. She said her businesses have been selling hundreds of orange shirts ahead of Canada Day. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Cameron's mother, aunts and uncles are residential school survivors. Seeing people wearing orange on Canada Day means people understand the importance of reflecting on that part of the country's history, she said. 

"That's all we wanted all these years is for people to know what has happened, that this is a part of history in Canada," she said. 

"And to wear an orange shirt, it means they understand and they heard our story."

A portion of the proceeds from shirts sold by Dreamcatcher Promotions and Cameron's other business, INAC-Indigenous Nations Apparel Company — will be donated to the Orange Shirt Society and other organizations that help residential school survivors. 

After news came out about the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites in Canada, Blanche Chief, an Oji-Cree woman from Fisher River Cree Nation, created two orange T-shirts: one that says No Pride in Genocide and another with the words "Every Child Matters" in bold, black letters. 

Chief, who also goes by her spirit name White Feather Woman, said she's sold close to 200 shirts so far. 

Blanche Chief displays an orange T-shirt with an inverted Canada flag above 'No pride in genocide.' She said she's sold about 200 orange shirts from her small business, Nimis Creations. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"I really didn't think that it would take off as much as it has, but I'm very fortunate and really glad to see that it has, especially because a lot of them have been non-indigenous people who are buying the T-shirt," she said. 

"So that really, you know, shows that they are ready to listen to Indigenous people and their stories and to acknowledge what's going on in the world today."

This year, Chief said, Canada Day isn't a cause for celebration, but a day to mourn the Indigenous children whose lives were lost in residential schools, and to push for accountability for those who were responsible.

Some of those sentiments will be echoed Thursday at The Forks in Winnipeg, where Canada Day will be a more solemn event, designed around remembrance and silence. 

Though COVID-19 restrictions mean large in-person gatherings are not possible, The Forks created an online event for July 1 that will begin with remarks from Indigenous curator Niigaan Sinclair on the meaning and gravity of Canada Day this year.

The event will also feature words from elders Barbara and Clarence Nepinak and then performances from Manitoba artists, including First Nations jiggers.

Meanwhile, the northern Manitoba communities of Churchill and Thompson and Shamattawa First Nation have cancelled their Canada Day events. Shamattawa pulled down the Canadian flag.

The Manitoba Museum is not holding Canada Day celebrations this year in support of, and in solidarity with, Indigenous communities, its CEO Dorota Blumczyńska said in an emailed statement. 

WATCH | Why some are wearing orange instead of red and white on Canada Day:

Orange shirts to honour the children

1 year ago
Duration 2:14
Wearing orange shirts to honour the children sent to residential schools. Here's why some will be wearing them tomorrow instead of red and white.

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