3 designs, 1 message: Mi'kmaq printer getting ready for Orange Shirt Day

An annual day meant to build awareness of the struggles of residential school students will be marked with an even more meaningful twist thanks to new shirts printed on Prince Edward Island.

'Every Child Matters' slogan now printed in 2 forms of Mi'kmaq as well as English

Misiksk Jadis and Deidre Augustine are two of the people involved in distributing clothing for Orange Shirt Day 2020, printed with the message 'Every Child Matters,' in English and Mi'kmaq. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

 At Mi'kmaq Printing and Design, stacks of orange shirts are folded and ready to be shipped out.

The shirts feature an eagle with the words "Every Child Matters." There are three versions — one in English, and two in different Mi'kmaq orthographies.

"This one is a really sacred animal for us, and it just kind of means our prayers are going up to Creator, so I think it's really impactful that we use this for every child matters," said Misiksk Jadis, who works with the company.

The message hits close to home for Jadis.

Orange Shirt Day, observed on Sept. 30 each year, is to remember the Indigenous children forced to go to residential schools.

Jadis's father is a residential school survivor.

'Not just an Indigenous matter'

"It was part of my everyday. I grew up with it. From when I was six years old, just learning about it, to having my father who raised me, he told me about it every day, and that was a part of his life," she said.

"He did tell me a lot about it, but there's some stuff, even as Indigenous people, we'll probably never know." 

It's not just an Indigenous matter. It's a Canadian issue​​​​​​.— Deidre Augustine

Jadis said she's seen non-Indigenous people become more aware of the history of residential schools through initiatives like Orange Shirt Day.

Deidre Augustine, who also works with Mi'kmaq Printing and Design, hopes people take the time to learn.

"It's grown so much because it's not just an Indigenous matter. It's a Canadian issue," said Augustine.

"And now it's a part of reconciliation too. So the more you talk about this issue and hear these stories, the truth, that's another step going into reconciliation."

Remembering residential school survivors

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by Phyllis Webstad, a Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation elder in Williams Lake, B.C. Her first day at a residential school was in 1973 when she was six.

Webstad recalls being excited to go to school, and picking out an orange shirt for the occasion.

When she arrived at the school, she was stripped of all her clothes, including the orange shirt.

The first Orange Shirt Day was marked in Williams Lake in 2013, and it has grown from there.

One of the shirts printed by Mi'kmaq Printing and Design for Orange Shirt Day, observed on Sept. 30 each year to bring awareness to the many Indigenous children forced to go to residential schools. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"It's grown so much," said Augustine. "They have it in schools, and not only Indigenous schools. They put it in workspaces."

Mi'kmaq Printing and Design made 2,000 shirts this year, which have been shipped around the country — but one shirt was sent as far as Louisiana.

She said people who buy shirts often ask questions about the story behind them.

"People always ask us … they want to know the different languages, they want to know the different styles," she said.

"Or right away, we'll tell them a brief history about it."

Printed in English and Mi'kmaq

Jadis said the decision to print the words on the shirt in Mi'kmaq came from feedback from the community.

"Previous years we just had it in English," she said. "We did have people asking 'Oh, it would be nice to have it in Mi'kmaq.' So we were like, 'All right, we'll do it.'"

The message on this anti-bullying shirt reads 'Every Child Matters,' in Mi'kmaq. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The shirts are available in two orthographies — Francis/Smith and Pacifique.

"Francis/Smith is more contemporary … it's the one that's most commonly used now. But the other one we have too is Pacifique, which is still used, but it's more New Brunswick, and then northern New Brunswick to Quebec area," said Augustine.

"There's so many different dialects and people write it different. People have different words. It's not wrong, it's just depending on where you're from."

Birth of a social enterprise

Mi'kmaq Printing & Design started in 2018 out of an idea that came from a social enterprise conference hosted by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.

The company started selling shirts and bags that July, featuring designs from Mi'kmaq artists.

"It's cool to see how much the business has grown," said Jadis. "We try to get out to communities and really educate with our shirts and our other lines as well."

One of the most popular designs is a shirt that says "Kwe'," which means "Hello."

"That again, it is kind of a conversation starter for non-Indigenous people and Indigenous people to kind of bridge that gap and get to know each other," Jadis said.

"I'll be walking down the street and I'll be like, 'Oh my God, someone's wearing a Mi'kmaq Printing sweater.' I love it."

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With files from Island Morning