T-shirt designed by Mi'kmaw artist to be worn across Canada

·2 min read
Artist Robin Paul graduated from the University of New Brunswick's First Nations education program and only decided to pursue art as a career when the pandemic hit. (Submitted by Robin Paul  - image credit)
Artist Robin Paul graduated from the University of New Brunswick's First Nations education program and only decided to pursue art as a career when the pandemic hit. (Submitted by Robin Paul - image credit)

A Métis business owner in Fredericton, and a Mi'kmaw artist from Oromocto First Nation have joined forces to create a t-shirt that will be worn across the country when Canada marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Beth Crowell, who runs Mayday Print and Swag Shop, was contacted by General Motors earlier this year when the multinational car manufacturer was looking for an Indigenous business to create orange shirts for its staff to wear on Sept. 30.

"It was important for them to have a registered aboriginal business do their shirts," she said. "The best part was that they let me choose the artist."

Crowell recruited artist Robin Paul to design the image for the T-shirts. She has practised many forms of art over her lifetime ranging from painting to bead work, but this is by far the largest project.

Submitted by Beth Crowell
Submitted by Beth Crowell

Paul said she was "humbled" when she learned that that General Motors employees at 470 locations across the country will wear her design.

"I was completely honoured by the fact that I was asked to do that," she said. "The fact that somebody just likes my artwork that much and that I can share it with as many people."

Imagery steeped in meaning

Paul's design represents all Indigenous people across North America with symbols for First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

"Surrounding that is a braid of sweetgrass, which is one of our traditional medicines, wrapping around the child as a way of healing and prayer," she said.

Her design includes footprints around the wreath of sweetgrass, which Paul said represents "children and the heart for love at the top."

Submitted by Beth Crowell
Submitted by Beth Crowell

Both Crowell and Paul hope that the shirts will work to encourage discussion and understanding of the traumatic history of Indigenous people in Canada.

Crowell has been thinking a lot about her own history, including aunts who attended residential school.

"I've just been discovering a lot of my family in Manitoba in the last year and connecting with them and finding out about some of these stories — horror stories really," she said.

Truth and Reconciliation Day "means a lot more this year with the people I've connected to and stories I've heard."

Paul hopes her design will speak to Canadians.

"Just buying an orange shirt — that doesn't help what happened," Paul said. "The orange shirt is just to promote conversation and remembering these children that were lost, and the survivors that are still here with us now."

Crowell hopes that those who wear and see the T-shirts on Sept. 30 will take away the message that every child matters.

"Because there was a large period of time when every child didn't matter," she said.