A conversation with two-spirit Ojibway artist and 2021 Orange Shirt Day designer, Patrick Hunter
Earlier this month, we launched our 2021 Orange Shirt Day campaign in support of Indigenous communities across the country.
Patrick Hunter, a two-spirit Ojibway artist from Red Lake, Ontario designed this year’s orange shirts, which include a new shoulder patch featuring children’s moccasins to commemorate the thousands of children lost to the residential school system. All proceeds from the sale of the new commemorative orange t-shirts through TSC will be divided equally between the Orange Shirt Society and the Residential School Survivor Society (IRSSS), a B.C. based organization providing essential services to residential school survivors, their families, and those dealing with intergenerational trauma.
We wanted to get to learn more about Patrick, what Orange Shirt Day means to him, and the inspiration behind the new design, here is what he shared with us:
Tell us about yourself and how you first began working with Rogers.
I’m a 2-spirit Ojibway artist from Red Lake, Ontario, currently living partly in Toronto partly, and in Northern Ontario. In my communities, I am an artist, first – creating original works inspired by Northern Ontario. Secondly, I’m a graphic designer – creating digital iconography inspired by my Indigenous heritage, collaborating with medium to large and corporate businesses to accompany their initiatives, which helps to put more Indigeneity out into the world in a more public way.
I first partnered with in 2019 when I put together an art show for Toronto pride, and National Indigenous Peoples Month. Since then, we have worked together on various projects which all aim to support putting Indigenous art and values not only into Rogers spaces, but out into the world in ways that support Indigenous communities.
What does Orange Shirt Day mean to you?
I always knew it was important to my people, but I didn’t think it carried a lot of significance for myself personally because my mother didn’t go [to a residential school]. As my journey has progressed and I’ve learned more about what the Government did to Indigenous communities with initiatives like the ‘Sixties Scoop’ – a Government-ordered mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system from the 1950s and into the 1980s – I realized that how many examples there were of forced assimilation, just like the schools.. My mother was a sixties scoop baby, and that wasn’t her mother’s choice. Her mother had gone to a residential school and likely learned what they were teaching there, which was that they weren’t good enough, they were worthless, and to be ashamed of their cultures.
Having learned about all this, I came to realize that I am totally affected by those schools because I didn’t get to grow up with my culture or language, I’ve been finding out about it all on my own and with every art piece that I finish.
What was the inspiration behind this new patch design and how does it honour Indigenous culture?
I have a lot of nephews that I care about who are at the age that they would have been going to residential schools. I also bought them moccasins when they were really little because they looked so cute! I wanted people to think about the children in their lives and communities, and what they would do if an agent came to their doorstep with the RCMP and told them that they’re taking their children and if you put up a fight, you’ll be punished. These little kids were just kids and beyond innocent, and those schools damaged communities for generations.
How does this new design honour Indigenous culture?
Moccasins are shoes that Indigenous people would make for gifts or use for themselves back in the day, and even to this day. I can’t sew to save my life, so I discover Indigenous makers on Instagram and support their businesses through buying their products.
How does your art connect you to Indigenous culture?
Before first contact, I think being creative was a way to ensure you had something to trade for valuable items. I think as a people. we’ve always looked to nature to make beautiful things and that’s still true to this day. There’s this beautiful, creative spirit inside us that if you can find a way to get in touch with, it will guide you in your career as an artist.
For Canadians who have purchased the 2021 Orange t-shirt, what are some main thoughts you would like them to take away?
Mainly, I want to thank the Canadian people for helping to support us during this time in history. I want you to think about what you would have done in our place, had it been the Government coming for your children. It is not an easy topic to talk about, but it definitely needs to be talked about more. By simply wearing an orange shirt, you can help spread awareness and start conversations that lead to more understanding.
To support the Orange Shirt Society’s educational programming, and Residential School Survivors through the IRSSS, purchase a Rogers-commissioned t-shirt designed by Patrick Hunter, now until Orange Shirt Day (September 30) at tsc.ca/wewearorange.