What do you do when you find the message on your new baby’s t-shirt offensive to First Nations people? If you’re Grade 5 teacher Jennifer Harper, you do something about it. Her students crafted the letter below, to Dutch fashion chain Mexx, in response to a t-shirt which suggests all “Indians” need to carry tomahawks and wear head dresses while forsaking modern conveniences such as laptops and motorcycles.
“I hope the boys will understand that their voice matters and that they need to take a stand for things they believe in,” says Harper. “I also want them to be aware of products and think of others — and the impact of the image or phrase — more critically.”
Students’ critical thinking abilities expanded dramatically during the course of the exercise, says Harper. “At the outset one student mentioned he would not have thought too much about the shirt, but after studying about First Nations and learning about their lives, the shirt strikes him as racist and shocking.”
(Mexx went bankrupt in December, coincidentally, and could not be reached for comment.)
We are writing this letter because we feel that this shirt you made is negative and offensive towards First Nations people. We suggest you take this shirt off the market and out of your stores and think carefully before you design a culturally sensitive item.
Your shirt seems like you are trying to isolate the First Nations people from the world. The shirt separates them from modern society. As a result, it is inhumane and making them feel very disrespected. We feel like you are being very insensitive towards the culture of the First Nations People.
The word “Indian” means that you live or come from India. The people you reference to on your shirt as Indians are respectfully known in our culture as Native Americans or First Peoples. Christopher Columbus believed he landed in India, but truthfully he landed in North America. He called the Native Americans “Indians.” Just because Columbus made an error, that doesn’t mean we should copy him and make the same mistake.
Your shirt makes people think that the First Nations have not progressed in hundreds of years. We believe it is offensive because there are currently many First Nation people living all over the world. The people living in the First Nation reserves, and off the reserves, all have access to technology and modern day items. Natives live today. They may use horses and tomahawks, and they also use computers, motorcycles and wear modern clothes. Like all of us, First Nations people have the right and choice to live like everyone else.
Your approach on your website states that you are passionate about everything you make. You declare that you believe in diversity, intelligence, honesty, authenticity and positivity. However, we feel the shirt you made does not meet those criteria. Rather, it is racist, offensive, rude and stereotypical. We suggest you be more open to other people’s thoughts and cultures when designing clothing.
The boys of 5H