Peterborough man's screen printing company combines Anishinaabemowin with '80s urban style

Nish Tees is owned by James Hodgson, a Sixties Scoop survivor, who hopes his clothing helps promote learning and awareness of the language.

Sixties Scoop survivor hopes Nish Tees promotes learning and awareness of Indigenous languages

James Hodgson uses his clothing line, Nish Tees, as a way to express his experiences learning about his Anishinaabe culture. (Facebook)

Growing up, James Hodgson didn't know much about his culture beyond that he was Anishinaabe.

Now he is the owner and operator of a screen printing company in Peterborough, Ont., called Nish Tees where he designs shirts, hats and other items featuring local place names and phrases in Anishinaabemowin.

He hopes that the use of Anishinaabemowin will help educate others who do not speak the language by opening a conversation.

Nish Tees uses locally-sourced garments that are screen-printed with images designed by Hodgson that are a blend of Anishinaabemowin with an '80s urban flair. (Submitted by James Hodgson)

"It's something that my generation in particular missed and a generation before and a generation after, we all kind of missed out on learning that as children," he said.

He was part of the Sixties Scoop, where thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and communities and raised in non-Indigenous families, a process that eradicated ties to their cultures, said Hodgson. 

Hodgson said he always knew that he was Anishinaabe because when he was adopted he came with a file from the Children's Aid Society that revealed his mother's background, although names and places were redacted.

He didn't begin to explore his culture until he moved to Peterborough to attend Trent University and started connecting with local Anishinaabe communities and organizations.

During this time, Hodgson also got a job with a local screen printing company, which sparked a passion for design.

Nogojwanong is the Anishinaabemowin place name for Peterborough, Ont. It means 'the place at the end of the rapids.' (James Hodgson )

Nish Tees has now been operating for more than 15 years.

"Having Anishinaabemowin on T-shirt, a lot of non-Indigenous people will be like 'Oh is that like a line of clothing?' Then the story gets explained to them and they actually learn something from it," said Hodgson.

Hodgson prints his own personally designed shirts, hats and other items inspired by the land and traditional place names. He also offers printing and branding services to local businesses.

"Budgets are a problem for a lot of people who don't have the necessary skills or know-how to get something they can have to promote themselves," he said.

When filling orders for clients or printing his own designs, Hodgson uses locally-sourced clothing.

"I think it's important to source local as much as possible, so the footprint that you're putting down on mother Earth is going to be less."

A Nish Tees design inspired by Standing Rock (Submitted by James Hodgson)

Hodgson's designs that feature Anishinaabemowin come from a creative process where he consults with local Anishinaabe Elders and language speakers Shirley and Doug Williams.

"I want to make sure that if I'm going to be putting our language onto T-shirts for the purpose of educating people I want the words correct," said Hodgson.

The designs he uses have an urban flair he hopes will attract youth to the culture.

"I've had a hard time personally using Anishinaabemowin and I find the older you are, the more difficult it is to learn to retain, so getting it at a young age is super critical."