Sales of iconic Hudson’s Bay blankets will now support fund for Indigenous initiatives


An iconic however controversial image of Canadian historical past and colonialism might quickly be seen as a gesture of reconciliation.

The Hudson’s Bay Basis and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund have introduced that from now on, 100 per cent of the web proceeds from the sale of HBC’s famed striped wool blankets will present help for Indigenous cultural, creative and academic actions by way of a newly launched initiative referred to as Oshki Wupoowane — The Blanket Fund.

“We’ll by no means make revenue from this blanket once more. All of the earnings will return to the Indigenous peoples,” Iain Nairn, president and CEO of the Bay, instructed CBC Information this week.

“We’ll get some issues proper and a few issues improper. However I believe if we now have the suitable imaginative and prescient, ambition and the suitable group engagement, then we’ll achieve success right here and proceed making a fact and reconciliation framework — not only for our firm, however to guide company Canada in that journey.”

Iain Nairn, president and CEO of the Bay, hopes the initiative exhibits a step in good religion by the corporate on the trail of reconciliation. (Submitted by Hudson’s Bay Co.)

The Hudson’s Bay Basis — the corporate’s registered charity, which works to handle racial inequity in Canada — is offering a $1-million contribution to kick off the official launch.

All funds might be administered by the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund — a charity centered on reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is named for Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 at age 12 whereas attempting to run away from a residential faculty, and Gord Downie, the late frontman of the band the Tragically Hip, who instructed Chanie’s story in his multimedia mission The Secret Path.

Purposes might be accepted by way of two completely different grant streams: one for organizations centered on capacity-building and one for people utilizing their grants to advertise native initiatives in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

Sarah Midanik, president and CEO of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, says it is vital that HBC desires to make its level blankets (a reference to the purpose system, which signifies the scale of the blanket) an emblem of reconciliation and transferring ahead collectively.

“Utilizing such an iconic image of Canadian identification is de facto significant,” she stated.

Sarah Midanik, president and CEO of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, hopes everybody who buys an HBC level blanket any more will get a greater understanding of the corporate’s function in colonialism, but additionally its dedication in transferring ahead in reconciliation. (The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund)

Going ahead, everybody buying a blanket “will even perceive the way it’s getting used to empower Indigenous communities, initiatives and organizations. That is actually highly effective,” stated Midanik.

Acknowledging the previous is vital, she stated, “however finally we have to look in direction of the long run and guaranteeing the energy and resilience and vibrancy of Indigenous peoples and communities for the following seven generations.”

“We additionally want to begin doing the work, and that is a method that we are able to transfer ahead collectively.”

An advanced image

The HBC level blanket has been many issues in its historical past — a precious commerce merchandise, an emblem of Canada rumoured as a provider of illness, and an emblem of colonialism, says Amelia Fay, curator of the Hudson’s Bay Firm Museum assortment on the Manitoba Museum.

“The purpose blankets and the stripes themselves ended up turning into a reasonably iconic image for the corporate,” she stated. Many Canadians affiliate the multicoloured stripes of the blankets “as synonymous with HBC and synonymous with … a really romanticized historical past of the fur commerce,” stated Fay.

Many embrace it as an emblem of Canadian identification, she stated, however “for different Canadians, it is not a optimistic image. So there’s this kind of this conflict.”

Whereas there’s oral historical past that the blankets had been used to purposefully unfold smallpox to Indigenous folks, Fay stated the outbreaks had been linked extra to many individuals gathering in shut contact — very similar to the present COVID-19 pandemic.

Whereas Europeans usually had immunity to the illness, Indigenous folks didn’t, she stated.

“They might carry blankets and different commerce items. They might be gathering in very small, poorly ventilated rooms and once they go away, abruptly, the group would fall sick with smallpox — many individuals would die.

“And so the notion was that it was linked to the blankets themselves. However the truth is, it isn’t linked to the blankets.”

An iconic HBC level blanket on the Manitoba Museum. The stitches of indigo-dyed wool point out the scale of the blanket. For instance, two stitches will match a twin-sized mattress. For a king, you’d want a four-stitch blanket. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Fay stated she was completely satisfied to listen to concerning the launch of Oshki Wupoowane, saying it exhibits HBC acknowledges its function in colonialism. It is an vital gesture by a company chief, she stated.

“There might be critics and I believe there’s nonetheless issues you possibly can criticize the corporate, and quite a lot of different establishments in Canada, for. There’s nonetheless a lot work to do.… We will not simply put on orange shirts on the sooner or later and go away it at that,” she stated.

However “steps in direction of recognizing the reality of what occurred up to now and the reality of how that carries ahead right this moment … [are] nonetheless progress, and progress is nice.”

The Downie & Wenjack Fund will start accepting functions for Oshki Wupoowane — The Blanket Fund early subsequent yr. The primary spherical of grants are anticipated to be awarded in September 2023.


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