Some well-meaning folks have contacted me asking me to make buttons that have a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) theme or, more recently, buttons pertaining to confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. (This blog post was written after the first recovery in Kamloops, it has since been followed by 104 at Brandon Residential School, at least 35 at Regina Indian Industrial School, at least 35 at Muscowequan Indian Residential School, 751 at Marieval Indian Resident School, 182 at St. Eugene’s Mission School in Cranbrook, BC, and 160 at Kuper Island Indian Industrial School. A further 180 unmarked graves were found in Carlisle, Pennsylvannia at the Carlisle Indian School.)
Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419 is available 24 hours a day.
I feel honoured and frustrated. Honoured that I’m the first person you think of when it comes to finding activist buttons, but frustrated because I am not the person to ask.
I am white. I am a settler. I work for the federal government. I benefit, in so many ways, including some very, very, very direct ones, from colonialism. Full stop.
I am also not sure, especially in this time of relative lockdown, that now is the time for buttons and t-shirts.
The discovery of these children was not a surprise to Indigenous people. It was discussed at length in the final reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). After the filing of this report, the government declined to fulfil one of the recommendations, which was to search the grounds of all residential schools for graves such as this one, citing costs. To present, the government has yet to commit to a search of all former school grounds.
This mass grave was not reported. The children buried within not recorded. They were swept under the soil as if it was a rug. There was no accountability. But to say that the individuals were not recorded is not to say that the government wasn’t aware. In research for a course a few years ago (I wish I still had the source) there was a passage of a letter that has stuck with me. It was from a school administrator back to the Department of Indian Affairs. In it, the administrator boasted of his superior skills managing the school, he was so proud that only 20% of the children in his care died.
I mean, when considering there was a 40-60% mortality rate in Indian Residential schools, I guess 20% is…something. I feel it necessary to point out the fact that a range of 40-60% is a HUGE range owing to a lack of records (and care). How can there be any healing with so many unknowns? How can settler society take the moral high road on anything – governance, legality, resource management, education, etc – when that same society and government won’t even fully admit to the ongoing genocide and colonialism that is actively at play?
As residential schools started to close, the 60s swoop started. Indigenous children are grossly overrepresented in the child welfare system. Present day. Generation after generation of trauma, of colonialism, of genocide.
The time for buttons and t-shirts is over. The time for buttons and t-shirts made by settlers is especially over (and never should have been a thing, period).
The money you planned to buy a button or shirt with: donate it. If you can, donate more. You don’t need a button, a shirt, or a visible way of showing your allyship.
A note to fellow makers: just like how Black Lives Matter items should only be sold by and to benefit Black folks, these sorts of things should only be sold by, or to benefit, Indigenous people.
Organizations You Can Donate To
Indian Residential School Survivors Society
Orange Shirt Day
Minwaashin Lodge (Ottawa)
Other Things You Can Do
Contact your Member of Parliament and push for them to commit to finding all children lost at residential schools, and for the government to stop fighting survivors in court. You can find out who your MP is by searching your postal code or address on this site. If you click on their profile you can see all their contact information too. Perfect for phone calls, letters, and emails.
Sign the petition demanding a National Day of Mourning for the Lost Children of Residential Schools.
Learn. (Without putting the burden on Indigenous folks to teach you.)
Read the TRC Report.
The University of Alberta has a free online course called Indigenous Canada.
Take a Virtual Tour of a Residential School.
APTN News: Artists Upset by Clothing Ads Using Every Child Matters
Truth and Reconciliation, Five Years Later | APTN InFocus
NDN Collective: Landback U
This Place: 150 Years Retold
Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories, Kelm & Smith
A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada, E. Brian Titley
Up Ghost River – Edmund Metatawabin
They Came for the Children: Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, Paulette Regan
Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools, Ronald Niezen
Reconciling Canada: Critical Perspectives on the Culture of Redress, Jennifer Henderson and Pauline Wakeham
Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors, Larry Loyie, Wayne K. Spear and Constance Brissenden
*links above are Amazon affiliate links. Any proceeds from clicks on these links will be donated to Minwaashin Lodge.
Share this knowledge with your children, your family, and your friends. Have those tough conversations.
Still really want to buy things to show your support?
Please ensure your Indigenous allyship benefits Indigenous makers/artists/people. (Or else it’s performative.)
Here is a what I have found! (I will add to this as more get back to my inquiries.)
ColourfulEagleView on Etsy (has Every Child Matters stickers and some other lovely items)
IndigenARTSY has a marketplace with lots of wonderful Indigenous artists, including Every Child Matters shirts.
Nish Gear on Etsy (buttons, decals, other) a husband and wife team (the wife is Indigenous).
Turtle Lodge Trading Post (link is for Orange Shirt Day shirts, but they also have lots of other Indigenous made goods).
Finding Our Power Together (Every Child Matters shirts, face masks and more).
Albert Dumont (Orange Shirts in English, French, and Algonquin)
My Smudge Box has some absolutely lovely patches and pins.
Please vet the shops you’re buying from. The number of non-Indigenous folks profiting off both Residential schools and MMIW is staggering, disgusting, and unacceptable.
If you are more concerned with the speed and ease of getting a shirt, and this is leading you to consider buying from a non-Indigenous source so that you can “show” your solidarity… I ask that you sit with that and think if over. If your desire to be seen as an ally is more important than your desire to actually be one – who is that helping?
Do you have suggestions to add to any of these three lists? Send me an email at email@example.com. I will take a look and consider adding them.