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My Love Hate Relationship with Making Orange Shirts and Why I Started Making Them

This month marked the 1 year anniversary of the discovery of the children who never made it home from the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Cue an explosion

An explosion of hundreds if not thousands of people:
  1. Who were true allies
  2. Who had never heard of Every Child Matters or Orange Shirt Day previously but was just learning about it now
  3. Who were both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous attacking my validity as an Indigenous person
  4. Who were performative allies....who expect you to break yourself creating a shirt for them to wear 1 day a year....these were usually the loudest in their "support" and worst customers to deal with.
  5. Who do not want to directly donate their money because they want to get something out of it
But let's take it back to the beginning of my Orange shirt journey for a second...

Taking it back to the beginning 

When I started this business, I did not make Orange Shirts, it felt too heavy...but then I started to see an outpouring of Non-indigenous people (of their admission) making them...one post, in particular, triggered me.
Someone posted in a local Facebook group asking for Orange shirts for September 30 (before it was officially named Truth and Reconciliation Day).. and someone had replied with an Orange shirt with Yoda on it...saying I can make you this...no reference to anything at all to do with the actual meaning behind Truth and Reconciliation Day...just an Orange shirt ....with Yoda.
It was completely tone-deaf...I was mad.
I replied and just simply stated...Orange Shirt Day is to recognize the atrocities that occurred at Residential Schools and to recognize the survivors, it is not simply an orange shirt with anything on it. I kept it nice and factual. She deleted her comment.
Instead of taking out my anger on the person, who maybe truly had no idea, I poured my emotions into creating 3 designs, rather quickly, as it was quite close to the actual day and I had not planned on making anything to sell.
3 orange shirts are depicted with the top left design: every child matters with the C being made of a dream catcher. The top right design states every child matters with 1 white and 1 black hand holding each other and the bittome design says every child matters with a feather over top of the words
I then posted and had an outpouring of people wanting them....cue the shortage of Orange Shirts from anywhere...and so I started to tie-dye them.
I was one of the first people to start to tie-dye Orange shirts...in my area at the very least, before I started I had never seen them before. The amount of work that goes into my method of tie-dye is substantial.
An orange tie dye shirt is laid out  with the words Every Child Matters written out with the D of Child being half a dream catcher blowing in the wind
But with support...comes the hate. As I had not had my company long I did not have a large following and I had not advertised well in advance that I was making Orange Shirts and so I did not give people who wanted to hate enough time to come for me.

2021 Rolls Around

2021 rolled around and I wanted it to be different.
I wanted my design to have more meaning. So almost as soon as I was through September 30 2019 I started doing my research. I wanted a design that contained all different words or versions of the word "Child" in Indigenous languages that I could find.
Finding the words for "child" or children in nearly dead languages is not easy let me tell you. I played with my design for months. I asked for help within communities that spoke the languages to clarify I was using the correct words and spelling and altered my design several times before I was satisfied.
By mid-May, I had finalized the words, the languages, and the layout and ordered a sample of orange shirts so that I could test printing and send them off to my photographers so that I would be prepared. I had just finished printing 1 shirt, pictured below I photographed it in my hallway as a sample and then

May 27 2021

215 bodies...children as young as 3...were found under and around Kamloops Indian Residential School. Memorials erupted everywhere. Including across from my day job

My phone exploded....messages, inquiries, phone calls...you name it. At one point my phone was going off so much that I could not even access it.
"I need a shirt by Monday"
"Why do you not have a store"
"Can I come by right now"
and then the allies...those that understood...
"I am sorry"
"Are you okay?"
I am a mother to a young child who had I been born at the wrong time, would have been taken from me. I am a survivor of Generational Trauma...substantial amounts...my family and I are survivors. I am Lytton First Nations.

In a field of tulips a woman sits on a swing smiling at her son beside her who is looking at her on a swing also smiling

But I am a business owner...and that was all that mattered to a lot of these people. Forget what I must be feeling, forget what Canada's government and the Catholic Church did to my family. Perform, create and do it on their timeline, but for free because I expect all proceeds to be donated, I do not want to see you succeed or profit off of what we did to your people. These people were the colonizers expecting me to give them my art for their performative display at the cost of my mental and physical health, history repeating itself.
And when I was at my worst from these comments, these messages asked for me to explain my trauma and educate them on what was done at these schools, and ask if they could sell their shirts as long as they donated a portion. The lateral hate from other Indigenous folks:
"You are not Indigenous, your last name is not Native at all"
"Look at this white girl trying to pass herself off as one of us"
"What percentage are you?"
"You did not grow up on the Reserve, you don't know what you are talking about"
Came those that truly cared, and helped lift me back up. Thankfully the majority of those of you who are likely reading this and are still with me since then.
"Take your time"
"I am so sorry"
"How are you doing?"
and so on, but that one person can break you, and let me tell you, they broke me.

Taking a Step Back

One person sent me over the absolute edge, a fellow business owner, she would not stop, messaging me daily with fake words of apology for what had happened to Indigenous people and take your time with my order, which quickly transformed into "where the hell is my stuff, how can you run a business like this, you should close if this is how you operate, what am I going to do with these shirts if I don't get them in time to go to this event" and keep in mind this was still MONTHS away from September 30 and not anywhere near my 6 weeks turn around yet. I removed Instagram and Facebook from my phone and I had to ask someone to take over my social media so I could step away, and I broke down...while still working on Orange Shirts every. single. day. Some people who took a lot of time out of their day to attack me, I said to them: I am sorry I cannot continue to have these conversations with you, I am going to step away from social media...do you know what those people did? They then emailed me hateful horrible things...because they wanted to make sure I saw them...not the person handling my social media....so I had her also take over my email communication.
And while surrounded by Orange everywhere and trying to process the emotions associated with this, I had people showing up randomly at my apartment asking where their orders were, telling me someone would pick up their stuff and send them to me but their orders were not ready. Calling and texting my cell phone constantly

I stopped functioning, I was crying and on edge, all the time, every time a message or call I did not recognize came in I would tense up, I could not handle it. I worked countless hours, all night sometimes to try to stay ahead and on top of everything. I had a full-time job which was usually more than full-time, a husband and a toddler, and a small business that had exploded at the tragedy of my people. My doctor finally prescribed me anxiety medication when I had an appointment with him and could barely speak without crying. But I am taught to be strong, to not show those weaknesses, and not to cry in front of anyone, so the only ones who saw my pain were the ones closest to me.

But I am Resilient

Slowly I allowed myself to let go of those comments and emails, and hateful people and allow all of the good ones to be absorbed from so many people. The good outweighed the bad and I had to focus on those while I worked through the hundreds of orders. These orders did not only contain Orange Shirts, people were coming to my site for that but loving the other items they saw. Sometimes I had an order that would have 10 items, only one being an Orange Shirt, which was amazing but also a lot of work.

I made it through, I got every order out eventually, I wanted people to have these shirts, I want a sea of orange, not just for September 30 but all of the time. This is what I love, bringing awareness. What I hate is the hate itself.
Upon releasing this year's design, I already have anxiety and the comments and questions and emails from those who do not know me or my brand have already started and it is only May. Maybe one day the validity of my Indigenous-ness will not be questioned but until then I will continue to create with a meaning behind it to bring light to what never should have been in the dark.

6 comments

  • Thank you for sharing!

    Sarah

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