'Thank an Indian' shirt debate still has people talking

The controversy around the 'Got land? Thank an Indian" shirt worn by a teen in Saskatchewan got tongues wagging across the country.

Our audience weighs in on controversy around shirt that Tenelle Starr wore to school

Bonita Daniels, left, and Tenelle Starr were sent to the principal's office after wearing 'Got land?' shirts to school. (Sherri Starr)

"First Nation teen told not to wear 'Got Land?' shirt at schoolwas our most visited story on last week.

Our coverage of the story generated nearly 180,000 page views, more than 2,000 comments on, more than 1,000 comments on the CBC Aboriginal Facebook page, and instigated a flurry of activity on Twitter.

At the centre of the story is 13-year-old Tenelle Starr from the Star Blanket First Nation.

Tenelle Starr says she does not think her 'Got Land?' sweater is offensive. (CBC)
The story about her decision to wear a shirt that said "Got land? Thank an Indian" to school went from small-town Saskatchewan to the national stage in a matter of hours.

Some people didn't understand why the shirt was so controversial:

  • Arlyquino: "How terrible! I am so offended that by wearing this t-shirt, she has reminded us of our past atrocities, failed promises, and hypocritical policies. And hot pink too! Where does she think that she lives, in a democracy? Pfff."

  • endlessfight: "​I'm white and this in no way offends me. it is the 100% truth. It's no secret that natives were here before Europeans and we have them to thank for the land that we are on. I DO get offended when other races break the law and then get treated fairly or unfairly compared to other races (blocking roads, railways, etc.). However as far as this shirt is concerned, rock it sister. you have every right too."​

  • Glenfiddich: "It really bothers me when people wear shirts that make me think… in school…."

But not all people agreed with the message, "Got land? Thank an Indian."

  • lladyon1: "If a white person wore something that said something different though....BIG difference in reaction .…that is a given.
  • Tax Me: "I'm Canadian: I paid for my land and the only person I have to thank is myself."
  • Mitch G: "However how true it may be, does one need to flaunt it? The governments of the past signed treaty's with them for the land and now we honor those treaty's everyday. Non natives should not feel like we "owe" anybody anything."

RCMP called to investigate online harassment

Michele Tittler has admitted to posting numerous messages on 13-year-old Tenelle Starr's Facebook page. (CBC)
Starr's Facebook page was also flooded with comments, some supportive and some negative and hurtful. It resulted in Starr deactivating her Facebook profile and her family contacting the RCMP.

Michele Tittler has admitted to posting numerous messages on Starr's page. She is the founder of an organization and Facebook group called End Race Based Law.

  • Sherry Emmerson: "...this women encouraged her "followers" to harass everyone involved in this incident......this poor girl doesn't deserve this backlash from grown adults who should know better."
  • Ken Wildman: "I am humbled that a 13 year old girl has made a delusional political group try to justify inciting fear into a child's heart to further their cause of ending race based anything. Idle No More stands with you, I stand with you."

Some of our audience questioned our decision to interview Tittler in our story.

  • @pmlebrun: "Shame on CBC for allowing Tittler the forum to spew lies and hatred."
  • @KaraArdan: "Dear @CBC in no way does #Tittler speak for non-aboriginal Canadians!"
This sweatshirt logo worn by two 13-year-olds to school has set off a controversy that garnered nationwide attention. (Sherri Starr)
Starr’s school, Balcarres Community School will be hosting a treaty symposium next month where, no doubt, the "Got land? Thank an Indian" controversy will be discussed.

Idle No More has also called for a day of action. The press release stated, "Now and up to a January 28 Day of Action, Tenelle and Idle No More and Defenders of the Land are encouraging people across the country to make the shirt and wear them to their schools, workplaces, or neighbourhoods to spark conversations about Canada's true record on Indigenous rights."

But some of our audience wondered if the controversy was actually encouraging meaningful dialogue.

  • Jess Mander: "…The message is divisive. It divides between settlers and 'Indians,' instead of the collective, more encouraging message that we are all treaty people… Instead of acknowledging that there are still treaties being signed and that aboriginal sovereignty and land claims are an ongoing debate. It dismisses many of the current issues as history."
  • Clearwater73: "I wish we lived in a nation where aboriginals and non-aboriginals could talk sensibly about this subject without all the rancour and insensitivity. I am seventh-generation Canadian of European and Scandinavian descent… My ancestors worked extremely hard and in tough conditions to make a life here, but I know full well that it was only possible because of the treaties."
  • Courtenay Bound: "The shirt to me stokes the flames of racism. We'd never allow a white kid to wear a shirt of that nature… There would be no public support for it."

Meanwhile, Winnipegger Jeff Menard, who creates the shirts, says orders have been flooding in.

Winnipeg's Jeff Menard says orders for his 'Got land? Thank an Indian' shirts have been pouring in. (CBC)
“The reason why I started this was to bring awareness to the Canadian natives and to unite our people and make them proud of who we are," he said.

We are continuing to follow this story and will bring you the latest news and updates at CBC Aboriginal.


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