"Got Land? Thank an Indian."
Some people in Saskatchewan, Canada, apparently didn’t want to.
And that, for a few days, got 13-year-old eighth-grade student Tenelle Starr, Star Blanket Cree Nation, barred from wearing the sweatshirt at school 56 miles from Regina, Saskatchewan.
Tenelle excitedly wore her new Christmas present to school after the holidays, CBC News reported on January 14. The question, “Got Land?” is emblazoned on the front, while the back is adorned with, “Thank an Indian.” Then school officials told her she could not wear it.
"They told me to remove my sweater because it was offending other people," Tenelle told CBC News, referring to school officials.
The message, she was told, had been viewed by some as racist. Others had termed it “cheeky” and “rude.”
"We were taught Indians were on this land first," she said. "So why are people offended?"
Star Blanket Cree Nation lies in Treaty 4 territory, which means the land was literally deeded to what would become Canada by the region’s Indigenous Peoples. That happened in 1874 in a treaty signed between the Cree and Saulteaux First Nations and the Crown, which enabled European settlement of Southern Saskatchewan, according to Postmedia News.
"Everyone has their own opinions in the non-Native world about how things are,” said Sheldon Poitras, a council member from the reserve, to CBC News. “There's a lot of misconceptions out there about what Treaty is, the rights that we have, things that are allotted to us through that. That's what's missing is that education."
Tenelle borrowed a cousin’s shirt on the first day that she was told to remove the sweatshirt, CBC News said. A few days later she wore it again and was directed to wear it inside out. Meetings between school officials and her mother, then with leaders of Star Blanket First Nation, opened the way for Tenelle to wear the hoodie.
Besides being historically accurate, the shirt’s message would seem to pale in light of well-documented atrocities against Indigenous Peoples in Canada since contact, especially toward children.
Nonetheless the words are disturbing to some. In Winnipeg in November, reported the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, a high school girl claimed to have been kicked off a city bus for sporting the same slogan on a shirt.
But compare that to an actual racist t-shirt, such as the one sold by unlicensed—and decidedly unsanctioned—vendors after a recent Florida State University game, and the difference is clear.
So too with the recent flap over a "hipster headdress" sold by the clothing retailer H&M and pulled from shelves last August.
In Saskatchewan, at least, a dialogue appears to have been started, and Tenelle is now sporting the magenta hoodie whenever and wherever she wants.
"I wear it proudly around the school," she told CBC News. "It supports our treaty and land rights…. It's important."