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How an Indigenous-led print shop is working for reconciliation in London, Ont. | CBC News

Mi’kmaq artist Mikaila Stevens fondly remembers collecting rocks and driftwood along the Thompson River in Kamloops, B.C. where she grew up. But when the discovery of unmarked graves was made at the Kamloops’ residential school, different feelings emerged.

“I do have quite a personal connection with that land, specifically where the school was,” the 27-year-old London, Ont. screen printer said. Originally from Eskasoni Mi’Kmaw Nation, Cape Breton, Steven’s family moved to Kamloops and would walk in the area of the residential school. 

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 honours the place and highlights 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 really beautiful place where a lot of wonderful things happened – and then also a lot of sad things,” she said. 

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

The shirts are printed at Rezonance Printing, an Indigenous-led print shop run out of a storefront in London, Ont.’s Old East Village, where she works as a screen printer. 

She started at Rezonance Printing in their youth internship program and now works running her own apparel company, Flourish and Grow. Screen printing and beadwork has been a way to connect with her culture, she said. 

Her orange shirt design is also giving Londoners a jumping off point for reflection on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Thousands of impressions have been made so far, with London District Catholic School Board staff having purchased some 400 shirts. 

The day, also called Orange Shirt Day, was inspired by Phyllis Webstad, who at six-year-old had her orange shirt taken on her first day of residential school in British Colombia in 1973.

a woman in an orange shirt sets up screen printing materials
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 incredible to be able to see people from all types of backgrounds come together to honour this day and this history,” she said. 

“I don’t think it should be about companies profiting from trauma or clicks or something trendy in the news. I think it should genuinely be about supporting Indigenous people and giving back to those communities.”

A man with a beard and hat screen prints an orange shirt in front of a wall mural.
Rezonance Printing’s Alex Hann says he’s made about 30,000 screen printing impressions for orange shirts in the last few months. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Reshaping equity in the community

Rezonance Printing started nearly a decade ago to generate income to pay youth interns interested in art and developing deeper ties to their culture. Founder Adam Sturgeon, who identifies as Anishinabek and is the lead singer in the band Status/Non-Status, says orange shirts are now one of their “flagship operations.”

“When you come in and purchase an orange shirt from us, you’re not only supporting survivors, but you’re supporting the future,” Sturgeon said. 

“Our priority has always been to take care of our community, and we think that one of the best ways we can do that is by supporting young people, offering them access to a community where they can support themselves and each other,” Sturgeon said. 

Sturgeon also sees the storefront’s presence 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-led screen printing shop in London, Ont.’s Old East Village neighbourhood. They started printing shirts nearly a decade ago to support their paid youth internship program, he said. (Michelle Both/CBC)

‘We are on a reconciliation journey’ 

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

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

“We’re part of the larger Canadian family that is learning the truth of residential schools in Canada and seeking to visibly display that we know of this truth, and we’re learning this truth – and that we are on our reconciliation journey,” said Denomme.

“It’s something that we are called to do in calls to action 62 and 63 in the truth and reconciliation commission report,” she said.

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

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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