The lessons Marty Myers (BA ’21) learned in his Introduction to Indigenous Studies class have remained in his mind beyond graduation.
So, when the Brock University alumnus came up with an idea last spring to help show support to Indigenous communities, he immediately knew who to call.
Myers reached out to the course’s instructor, Sherri Vansickle, and began work on the creation of a unique orange shirt to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — also known as Orange Shirt Day — on Friday, Sept. 30.
Vansickle, Interim Director of Brock’s Indigenous Educational Studies program, connected Myers with Kanerahtaien Doxtador-Swamp — a young Indigenous artist who designed the artwork for the shirt — and also helped him find an organization supporting residential school survivors to provide proceeds from the shirt’s sales to.
The initiative has since come to fruition and the shirts are now available through Calhoun, the St. Catharines-based company Myers founded in 1973. All proceeds from sales of the shirt will go to the Mohawk Village Memorial Park in Brantford, located on the site of the former Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School that operated from 1834 to 1970.
Myers said he was “fortunate” to be among Vansickle’s students, who gained a “strong sense of connection to the Indigenous community” through her teaching.
“Hopefully, this project will give us a connection to our Indigenous neighbours and allow the healing process to continue,” he said.
Vansickle said Myers is “taking reconciliation to heart.”
“He’s trying to make a real and meaningful difference in his field,” she said.
As National Day for Truth and Reconciliation becomes more widely recognized, shirts like the one designed by Calhoun and Doxtador-Swamp make a statement and can initiate important conversations, Vansickle said.
“It opens doors for us to talk about Canada’s past with First Nations people and the acts of genocide that have been committed against us,” she said. “To work towards truth and reconciliation, we need to know the truth. We need to appreciate it. We need to listen to it, even the parts that make Canadians feel uncomfortable. We’ll never get to the reconciliation part until we acknowledge the truths.”
Doxtador-Swamp describes her design as an expression of the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people and communities, and the ways that nurturing Indigenous cultures and languages can help to heal some of the damage done by these institutions. The artwork includes a slogan in Mohawk, Akwé:kon Ratiksâokòn:a Ratiiâtanó:ron, that translates to “All of the children are precious.”
Having the Mohawk language on the shirt has an impact, Vansickle said, because one of the ways residential schools silenced Indigenous people was by cutting children off from the languages they would have spoken at home.
“My grandmother went to residential school, and she wouldn’t teach us Mohawk,” she said. “She was a fluent speaker and she lived with me growing up, but it’s because she was afraid we’d get beaten for it.”
More information about the T-shirts with Doxtador-Swamp’s design can be found at calhounstore.com
Details on Brock’s remembrance activities held in recognition of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are available in this Brock News article.