When supporting human rights issues one of the first and simplest ways you can show support is through apparel and the clothes you wear. For movements like Every Child Matters and Orange Shirt Day, it’s important to ask the questions — who made it and where are the proceeds going?
Every year on September 30, people across Canada wear orange and participate in Orange Shirt Day events to recognize and raise awareness about the history and legacies of the residential school system in Canada. Orange Shirt Day originates from the story of Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. It is a day to honour and remember residential school survivors and their families, as well as children that did not survive the residential school system.
Marilyn Frank, owner of Six Nations-based G & M Sportswear, printed an Every Child Matters design on 800 orange t-shirts for the Two Row Times newspaper. She said she wanted to help turn something negative into a positive, in light of the discovery of the unmarked residential school graves around the country.
When it comes to other Indigenous-owned businesses creating t-shirts and other Every Child Matters apparel, it’s been hard to find shirts and other products as big businesses like Walmart are also participating. For every orange t-shirt sold, Walmart is donating 100 per cent of its profits to the Orange Shirt Society.
“Walmart Canada is partnering with Orange Shirt Society for Orange Shirt Day on September 30 to raise awareness about the history and continuing impact of residential schools in Canada,” reads Walmart’s Canadian website. “We’ve worked closely with this organization to create orange t-shirts and sell them across our stores and online. For every orange t-shirt sold, 100 per cent of profits will go directly to Orange Shirt Society to support them in the important work they do. This includes supporting and building an understanding of residential school reconciliation, creating awareness of the individual, family, and community intergenerational impacts of residential schools through Orange Shirt Society activities, as well as creating awareness of the concept of Every Child Matters. Thank you Orange Shirt Society for letting us share this important day with you.”
It’s not the first time big businesses have capitalized on human rights issues, movements, and concepts. Every year during Pride month there are countless businesses throwing their support in the mix by adding a new line of Pride or rainbow-themed products. In summer 2020 the Black Lives Matter movement experienced some of the same, as well as other movements such as Body Positivity.
It’s important to remember that Every Child Matters and Orange Shirt Day is more than a movement and to be mindful of where the product is coming from, who designed it and where the proceeds are going. Every Child Matters needs to ring true every day of every month and Indigenous voices, designers, and creators need to be a part of the process.
Atlohsa Family Healing Services, a non-profit, charitable organization, dedicated to strengthening community through Indigenous-led programs and services that offer holistic healing and wellness, sold 10,000 Orange Shirts during their Relighting the Fire of Hope Campaign.
Each month leading up to Orange Shirt Day, Atlohsa Family Healing Services donated $1 from the sale of each shirt to a group or organization who honour and celebrate the preservation of Indigenous knowledge, culture and language.
Atlohsa Family Healing Services said there are several ways non-Indigenous people can take action other than wearing a shirt:
“Do the work and do some research. Do not lean on your Indigenous friends to advise you how to help or to explain the Indian Act or the 94 Calls to Actions. Just start doing. While some have explained that this is intimidating, embrace that emotion and push through it. You will feel so fulfilled when you come out the other side having learned something new. That is action,” the organization stated. “Volunteer your trade, time or expertise. There are many local Indigenous community groups you can support.”