WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find distressing.
An Indigenous artist based in London, Ont., Claims her work is being stolen and sold online in a cheeky move to turn Orange Shirt Day’s spirit of reconciliation and healing into a quick cash-making opportunity.
“They don’t just steal the work of artists; they actually appropriate the culture,” said Hawlii Pichette, a Cree artist and illustrator from Mushkego (Treaty 9). “They make money from our trauma.”
Pichette’s illustrations and digital art – which you can see here on her Urban Iskwew website – are vibrant and distinctive. The stylized designs convey messages of hope and empowerment for Indigenous peoples, drawing inspiration from traditional First Nations art while celebrating the land and animals.
Pichette designed an orange Every Child Matters shirt for Atlohsa Family Healing Services, a London-based nonprofit that provides Indigenous-led healing, accommodation and support programs and services to community members.
She also designed coloring pages on the theme Every Child Matters. These are offered as a free download from its website. The coloring pages are often used as an educational aid for children who learn more about the trauma suffered by Aboriginal people in residential schools.
Awareness of the abuse and suffering endured by First Nations in residential schools in Canada has been heightened following the detection this spring of the remains of more than 200 children buried on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. .
The Every Child Matters movement and the orange shirts worn in support of Indigenous peoples gained momentum ahead of Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Thursday.
But some fear the move has led people to view it as a trend with huge profit potential.
Over the summer, Pichette learned that a Facebook page called We Love Native American posted images of t-shirts that used her designs without permission and links to websites that sold them for $ 24.95. each.
“It’s copied and pasted from my website,” Pichette said. “They barely changed a thing. It’s my 100% art. They haven’t even changed it – they just took it.”
Here is an example of Pichette’s work:
And here’s how the design appears on the We Love Native American Facebook page:
Pichette said six of his designs were being used without permission on the Facebook page and related t-shirt websites.
She said that in some cases the designs have superficial changes. For example, in this image from Pichette’s website, the moccasins appear with the words “Rock Your Mocs”.
But in the version that appears on the We Love Native American Facebook page, the wording has been changed to read “Every Child Counts.”
Pichette said she could tell the work was stolen because her work had a signature embedded that she could see in the images used on the website selling the t-shirts.
The links on the Facebook page lead to two different websites – winterbubbleprint.com and fashiondeja.com – both of which list the same contact number and the same Indianapolis mailing address.
CBC News called the 1-888 number listed on the websites, but they only offered automated voicemail messages to verify orders with no way to speak directly with anyone.
One of the web pages includes a web form for reporting intellectual property violations. Pichette said she has completed it six times since July, but the company has never contacted her directly and the shirts with her stolen designs are still on sale. She also posted several comments on Facebook posts saying “this art is stolen”, but the posts were not removed.
CBC News has contacted Facebook for comment, but has not received a response.
“I know some really famous artists who had their art stolen from this group and their art is still up there a year later,” Pichette said.
She said she was not an expert on intellectual property and did not have the time or skills to track down the people behind the companies.
“If there is a lawyer out there who wants to help me with this, I would love to speak with them,” she said. “Something has to change because it’s been going on for a long time. These are profiteers who have seen what’s going on with Orange Shirt Day and they are jumping on it. It’s wrong on so many levels.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their residential school experience and for those triggered by the latest reports.
A national residential school 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 line: 1-866-925-4419.