Gitxsan artist demands apology for use of her design on lacrosse league shirt

·2 min read
Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoney has accused the National Lacrosse League of stealing her creative work, right, and putting a version, left, on orange T-shirts they are selling to increase awareness about the damage caused by residential schools and raise money for charity. (Michelle Stoney/Facebook - image credit)
Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoney has accused the National Lacrosse League of stealing her creative work, right, and putting a version, left, on orange T-shirts they are selling to increase awareness about the damage caused by residential schools and raise money for charity. (Michelle Stoney/Facebook - image credit)

A Gitxsan artist has accused a U.S.-based men's professional indoor lacrosse league and two Canadian lacrosse teams of stealing her T-shirt design that honours survivors of the Indian residential school system.

Michelle Stoney of Hazelton in northwestern B.C. says the U.S.-based National Lacrosse League and its two Canadian members — Halifax Thunderbirds and Vancouver Warriors — are selling orange T-shirts with a similar hand logo for fundraising purposes.

She says she first saw a Warriors' Facebook post last week which featured a photo of a player wearing the shirt, with the design credited to another person.

"I can't really explain the feeling, but it was … it was horrible," she told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North.

In Stoney's original design created for Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, 2020, mountains and trees represent the Gitxsan Nation, the flowers represent children, and the feathers represent children who were lost in residential schools. Sept. 30 is now a national holiday and is officially called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Stoney is one of the many Indigenous artists across Canada whose works have been used by online vendors and companies alike without permission.

Original creative work 'flipped'

Stoney says it looks like the Thunderbirds designer "flipped" her work by tracing the hand and adding the words Every Child Matters to replace the mountain, tree and flowers on the palm of her piece.

A Google search shows many shirts bearing logos similar to Stoney's are being sold on various e-commerce platforms.

Michelle Stoney, Gitxsan artist/Facebook
Michelle Stoney, Gitxsan artist/Facebook

Stoney says she is fine with lending her creative works, such as the Indigenous feather colouring pages, for other people to use, as long as they ask for her consent to collaborate.

Lacrosse league, team promise investigation

Stoney says she contacted the Warriors who apologized and removed their Facebook post last Thursday.

"At the time we were using information provided to us regarding the artist credited for the design. We understand that this information may be incorrect and have taken the post down to slow the spread of misinformation," the lacrosse team wrote.

The league told CBC News in an emailed statement it is investigating the T-shirt design.

Vancouver Warriors
Vancouver Warriors

CBC has reached out to the Thunderbirds for comments and didn't hear back by deadline, but Stoney says the team told her it will investigate the T-shirt design and promised to speak to her this week.

She says while she doesn't want to sue anybody, she wants a public apology from the team: "I want to find out whose exact idea was it to take my design, because right now people are just blaming other people about it and nobody's taking blame for it."

"You can't steal existing work."

Nolan Guichon
Nolan Guichon

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for 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.

Subscribe to Daybreak North on CBC Listen or your favourite podcast app, and connect with CBC Northern British Columbia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting