Controversy resolved after additional meetings with nearby First Nation
Tenelle Starr, 13, is in Grade 8 and goes to school in Balcarres, about 90 kilometres northeast of Regina. She is a member of the nearby Star Blanket First Nation.
"It supports our treaty and land rights ... It's important." Starr told CBC News Tuesday, as the issue over the message on her shirt reverberated at her school and online through her Facebook page.
Since then, however, she was told other students had complained about the message on her sweater and was asked to change.
"They told me to remove my sweater because it was offending other people," she said.
Starr added that one of her teachers told her that some people viewed the message as racist.
"I didn't think it was racist," she said, adding she was embarrassed by the request to change. Although she did wear a cousin's shirt on the day she was first asked to change, she wore the sweatshirt again on subsequent school days.
Additional meetings between the school and leaders of the Star Blanket First Nation led to an understanding that Star's sweatshirt, and its message, were acceptable after all.
"We're all on the same page," Sheldon Poitras, a council member from the reserve, told CBC News Tuesday night. "They're in full support of the students wearing that type of a T-shirt or sweater and they had no intention of infringing on anything."
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"Orders are just coming here left, right and centre," Jeff Menard told CBC News. "I'm being flooded with calls."
Tenelle Starr, 13, recently ran into opposition wearing her pink "Got land?" sweatshirt to school in Balcarres, Sask., although people at the school eventually relented.
Since Tuesday, her story has been on headlines and broadcasts across Canada.
'Thank an Indian' shirt generates intense reaction
Joseph Gordon said his niece was bearing the scrutiny well.
"She's fine," Gordon told CBC News Thursday. "She is a strong girl but she has a lot of people sheltering her and keeping this from her."
There were also many negative and hurtful postings, which led to concerns.
"It was racist remarks with attempts to shadow it in opinion but they were pretty forceful, pretty racist," Sheldon Poitras, a friend of the family and a member of the band council for the Star Blanket First Nation, told CBC News.
"The family was concerned about Tenelle's safety."
On advice from RCMP, the family decided to deactivate Starr's Facebook account. An officer from the File Hills detachment of the RCMP confirmed that an investigation had begun.
Much of the online discussion dealt with people's perceptions of racism and what was conveyed by the message on the shirt.
Some people felt linking current day land ownership with historic Indian treaties was inappropriate.
Michele Tittler was posting on social media sites connected to the story. Tittler, from Vancouver, is a co-founder of a non-profit political organization called End Race-Based Laws, or ERBL Inc.
"I was immensely offended," Tittler told CBC News Thursday, regarding the message of the shirt. "And I was going to do everything within my power to have that shirt banned from that school."
Tittler said she had written to the Balcarres school and also sent notes to Facebook, complaining about the content on Starr's page.
She is also planning to lodge a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, although it's not clear on what grounds. Tittler is, however, convinced that the message of the shirt is racist.
"This is racism," she said. "Canadians are really getting sick of the double-standard. No white kid could walk into a school with a shirt that says that in reverse."
Indian treaties aren't racial at all. They're political agreements signed between one political entity and another.
By one ranking, the least diverse countries in the world are North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Tunisia, and Italy. So if we signed a treaty with North Korea, would it be illegal because it was race-based? No. It would be a political agreement regardless of the signers' ethnicity.
Indian treaties are like that. You could say they were politically and racially based because the political entities were often, but not always, a single race. But the fundamental basis for the agreements was political, not racial.
Facts aren't racist
I don't know how Tittler figures it's racist to make a factual statement about Indians. Is "Indians were the first Americans" racist? "Got land? Thank an Indian" is the same idea, only phrased differently.
And I'm not sure what Tittler considers the reverse of "Got land? Thank an Indian." "Illegally obtained land? Thank a white man"?
Perhaps she's thinking of something like "Founded the United States? Thank a white man" or "Invented penicillin? Thank a white man." But these were the work of particular white men, not all white men.
Indeed, white men opposed the Greek and Roman civilizations...the Christian church...and the American revolution. I can't think of anything that every white person and no nonwhite person created or discovered.
In contrast, every Indian was an owner/occupant of America before Columbus arrived. And no white man was. So this is something we can attribute to the entire group--unlike any discovery or invention by white men. Every piece of land in the Americas was either taken from Indians illegally or given by Indians legally.
Shirt haters = mascot lovers
The racist comments are about what you can expect whenever you take a pro-Indian position. Non-Indians seethe with racist resentment over the "special rights" and "government handouts" Indians supposedly get. They can't stand the idea that someone other than white Christians might be ahead.
This racist attitude is the same force behind other stereotypical incidents. For instance, Thanksgiving pageants, Halloween costumes, and sports mascots.
Non-Indians want to think, "We were friends with the Indians. We admired their courage and tenacity. We honor them because Americans are paragons of virtue who love everybody and do the right thing."
The corollary is that they don't want to think, "We robbed the Indians of their land. We broke the treaties we signed because we're liars and cheaters. We captured or killed any Indians who refused to sign and surrender."
I suspect there's a large overlap between people who'd hurl racist epithets at someone wearing a "Got land?" shirt and people who'd defend racist Indian mascots. As always, it's about upholding the American mythology of taming the wilderness, bringing civilization to the land, and earning God's blessing. Denouncing this shirt and worshiping a mascot are two sides of the same coin. They're both examples of protecting the Euro-Christian mentality and the power derived from it.
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