By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
A hoodie with the slogan "Got Land? Thank an Indian" was a steady seller for months before two teens, one in Winnipeg and another near Regina, got flak for wearing it.
Now all of a sudden, the Winnipeg letter carrier who popularized the cheeky slogan says the flak has set social media buzzing.
His hoodies and T-shirts are on back order and a website that promotes them says orders can’t be filled for two to three weeks because of the demand.
Jeff Menard, 37, was surprised with news reports that some people are offended because they see the slogan as racist.
He disagrees but he’s delighted his slogan is getting out there.
As soon as he’s able, Menard said he plans to step up his business by handing out hoodies to the homeless in downtown Winnipeg.
"There is a new website, thankanindian.com, and you’ll see the stories and my vision for the homeless," Menard said. "The more I sell, the more I can donate. Hopefully I can clothe the whole of Winnipeg."
He’s on Facebook, too.
Since 2012, the T-shirts and hoodies had been steady but unspectacular sellers at Arboc’s, the Swan Lake First Nation gas bar on the Trans-Canada in Headingley and at Red Sun, the Rouseau River First Nation gas bar and smoke shop on Highway 6 at the Perimeter.
That changed this winter after a story about a Saskatchewan teen who wore one of the hoodies, in bright pink, to school after the Christmas holidays.
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.
She was asked to change because the slogan was perceived as offensive. The furor mostly settled down after school officials met with representatives of the neighbouring Star Blanket First Nation, but then the story hit social media and more coverage revealed the 13-year old-girl was receiving hate messages on Facebook.
Menard said the concept was inspired by a shirt he saw in the United States with a similar slogan. He got a loan from friends to turn it out on T-shirts and hoodies here and "Thank an Indian" was born.
The slogan isn’t offensive; it’s the plain honest truth, he maintained.
"It’s about awareness and honouring the treaties. And it (the slogan) speaks the truth. The Indians were here and then the Europeans came by boat: "Got Land? Thank an Indian" is plain and simple," he said.
The so-called 11 numbered treaties, signed mostly in the 1800s from Alberta east to northwestern Ontario, created a relationship between the First Nations of the Prairies and settlers who wanted land. The last treaty was signed in 1910.
For Menard, the slogan is playful but it carries a serious message. He said the treaties shaped the political reality of the Prairies and First Nations people can be proud of their contribution.
Menard was raised in Winnipeg but he’s also proud to be from a First Nation, Pine Creek, in western Manitoba.
Besides, it’s good business: "If this gets big, I want to be remembered for it. I want to be remembered for my life," he said.