Indigenous Olympians react to choice of '.dsquaw' designers for Canada's Olympic clothing

Indigenous former Olympians are registering disappointment with the selection of Canadian fashion designers Dsquared2 as designers for Team Canada's 2016 Olympic clothing, but say that the choice also brings opportunities for reconciliation.

Canadian designers Dsquared2 awarded Olympic contract by Hudson's Bay after controversial line last year

Dsquared2 designers Dean and Dan Caten came under fire last year for their collection called #Dsquaw. The Toronto-born twins were recently awarded Team Canada's clothing contract for the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Left: Facebook, Right: Twitter/Hudson's Bay)

Indigenous former Olympians are registering their disappointment with the selection of Canadian fashion designers Dsquared2 as designers for Team Canada's 2016 Olympic clothing, saying that the choice could bring negative connotations and serve as a distraction.

The label, helmed by Toronto-born twins Dean and Dan Caten, faced backlash last year over a fashion line that was being marketed with the name .dsquaw.

Jesse Cockney, an Inuvialuit athlete who competed for Canada at the Sochi Olympics, said that he would be uncomfortable wearing clothing from Dsquared2. Canadian athletes are mandated to wear their country's Olympic uniform for the duration of the Games. (Cockney family)
Jesse Cockney, an Inuvialuit athlete born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories who competed for Canada's cross country ski team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, said that he would be uncomfortable having to wear the clothing, which all Team Canada athletes are mandated to do over the course of the Games.

"From the second you read a label to put it on and feel maybe uncomfortable with that, it's not a great way to start your day," he said, "Especially during those three weeks when you need everything to be perfect. So negative energy, I can't see being helpful."

Waneek Horn-Miller, a Mohawk from Kahnawake who competed on Canada's water polo team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, said that she was worried the selection could bring added stress to athletes in Rio, calling the .dsquaw line "pretty appalling, and a real show of ignorance on their part on what that word means.

"The unfortunate side of it is that this could be an added stress to any of [the athletes]," said Horn-Miller, who recently served as the assistant chef de mission for Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games. "Because the media may be asking them questions. And they're just trying to focus on their performance, and their training."

"The athletes have no say. You get what you get, and then you wear it, and that's what happens."

'I think there's a possibility to see something good come out of it'

Janice Forsyth, a former director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at Western University, said that from the Canadian Olympic Committee's perspective, Dsquared2 should be seen as a "real problem, associating yourself with this clothing line that, in a symbolic way, reproduces violence against women.

"And [Dsquared2] should know better than to reproduce these really problematic names. It's almost similar to the use of the word 'n--ger' in the U.S.," said Forsyth. "Squaw is a derogatory term, we know that, it's pretty much unanimous."

Forsyth added that this was not the first time Hudson's Bay Company has come under fire from the Indigenous community for their Olympic designs. In 2009, the company was accused by the Cowichan First Nation for ripping off their design for sweaters that were part of the 2010 Olympic uniform

Despite the negative connotations associated with the .dsquaw line, both Cockney and Horn-Miller said that they would put the issue behind them if the controversy was addressed, and positive action was taken.

Former water polo star Waneek Horn-Miller co-captained Canada's women's water polo team that won gold at the 1999 Pan Am Games, and competed for Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She said that the selection of Dsquared2 could become positive if it forced the designers to address .dsquaw: 'That's what reconciliation's about.' ((Jeff De Booy/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press))
​"I think that there's a possibility to see something good come out of it," said Horn-Miller. "Dsquared2 did take down all the references to .dsquaw on their website, but the one thing that was missing was: 'hey, we screwed up. We were ignorant, we didn't know.' Just be honest. And perhaps that's all they need to do.

"That's what reconciliation's about. It's not about everybody doing everything perfect, it's about moving into the future so that we don't end up doing the same thing. And I think that would be a great resolution to this issue. I think it would be unfortunate if nothing was said."

CBC attempted to contact Canadian Olympic Committee members listed in a press release announcing Dsquared2 as the designers for Rio 2016. We were directed to contact Hudson's Bay Company, who stated in an email that "for Rio 2016, Hudson's Bay looked to Canadian design duo DSQUARED2 to design an Opening Ceremony uniform that captured the spirit of sport and a sense of national pride. We are looking forward to unveiling the full collection in April."