Meet the Mi’kmaq artist who designs orange shirts inspired by his heritage


Mi’kmaq artist Mikaila Stevens fondly recalls collecting rocks and driftwood along the Thompson River in Kamloops, British Columbia, where she grew up. But when the discovery of unmarked graves was made in Kamloops Boarding Schooldifferent feelings emerged.

« I have a pretty personal connection to this country, especially where the school was, » said London, Ont., 27. screen printer says. Originally from the Eskasoni Mi’Kmaw Nation in Cape Breton, Steven’s family moved to Kamloops and roamed the residential school area.

Her memories of that family time inspired artwork for an orange shirt that many will wear for this year’s Truth and Reconciliation Day – a design that honors the place and showcases the beauty of the land.

« It’s this beautiful place that has this different memory now, but I’ve decided to continue to see it as a very beautiful place where a lot of wonderful things have happened – and then also a lot of sad things, » he said. she declared.

Mikaila Stevens says childhood memories of collecting rocks and driftwood along the Thompson River in Kamloops, B.C. inspired the design of her orange shirt. (Michelle Both/CBC)

The shirts are printed at Rezonance Printing, an Indigenous-run print shop located in a storefront in the Old East Village of London, Ontario, where she works as a screen printer.

She started at Rezonance Printing as part of their youth internship program and now runs her own clothing business, Flourish and Grow. Screen printing and beadwork were a way to connect with her culture, she said.

His orange shirt design also gives Londoners a starting point to reflect on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Thousands of impressions have been made so far, with London District Catholic School Board staff purchasing some 400 shirts.

The day, also known as Orange Shirt Day, was inspired by Phyllis Webstad, who at the age of six had her orange shirt removed on her first day at boarding school in British Columbia in 1973.

a woman in an orange shirt installs screen printing equipment
Stevens says screen printing and beadwork is a way to connect with her culture. She started at Rezonance Printing as an intern and returned to work as an internship facilitator and screen printer. (Michelle Both/CBC)

« I think it’s really amazing to be able to see people from all walks of life come together to honor this day and this history, » she said.

« I don’t think it should be about companies profiting from trauma or clicks or something that’s hyped in the news. I think it should really be about supporting indigenous people and give back to these communities. »

A man with a beard and a hat screenprints an orange shirt in front of a mural.
Alex Hann of Rezonance Printing says he’s done around 30,000 screenprint prints for orange shirts in the past few months. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Reshaping equity in the community

Rezonance Printing began nearly a decade ago to generate revenue to pay young interns interested in art and developing deeper connections to their culture. Founder Adam Sturgeon, who identifies as Anishinabek and is the lead singer of the band Status/Non-Status, says orange shirts are now one of their « flagship activities. »

« When you walk in and buy an orange shirt from us, you’re not just supporting the survivors, you’re supporting the future, » Sturgeon said.

« Our priority has always been to take care of our community, and we believe that one of the best ways to do this is to support young people, to offer them access to a community where they can support themselves and help each other, » Sturgeon said. .

Sturgeon also sees the presence of the storefront as an act of decolonization.

A man with a beard wearing a black shirt smiles in a print shop in front of a mural and hanging t-shirts
Adam Sturgeon is the founder of Rezonance Printing, an Indigenous-run screen printing studio in the Old East Village neighborhood of London, Ontario. They started printing shirts nearly a decade ago to support their paid internship program for young people, he said. (Michelle Both/CBC)

“We are on a path of reconciliation”

Tammy Denomme, head of Indigenous education for the London Catholic District School Board, was in the shop to pick up her order of shirts.

She says wearing Stevens’ design will be meaningful, noting her beauty.

“We are part of the great Canadian family that is learning the truth about residential schools in Canada and seeking to visibly show that we know that truth, and we are learning that truth – and that we are on our way to reconciliation,” said Dénommé.

« It is something we are called to do in calls to action 62 and 63 of the truth and reconciliation commission report,” she said.

A man and a woman chat in a warehouse next to a table full of orange shirts
Adam Sturgeon of Rezonance Printing talks to Tammy Denomme of the London District Catholic School Board. She stopped by the store to pick up an order of orange shirts for educators as part of Truth and Reconciliation Day. (Michelle Both/CBC)

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.



Back to top button