Shawn E. Baginski of Chilliwack felt driven to do something concrete this year to raise awareness about the residential school experience.
As someone who attended residential school, and as someone with graphic design ability, it was a no-brainer when friends and family suggested he design an orange T-shirt to remember all the children found in unmarked graves.
“The driving force behind this has always been spreading awareness of what happened,” Baginski said.
Baginski decided go ahead with a T-shirt project in honour of Orange Shirt Day, which morphed into the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, on Sept. 30, 2021.
On Tuesday, Baginski, realized he had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams: selling out his stock of almost 1,000 T-shirts, which will mean a donation of at least $9,500 to the Orange Shirt Society.
His plan was simple: Sell the orange shirts at a reasonable price, and donate everything above cost.
It took weeks to find a local printer who could take on the work for a price that made sense, at $20 per adult T-shirt, for example.
“I started with 939 shirts,” Baginski said. He had completely sold out of all his stock as of Sept. 28.
He plugged away on the project whenever he wasn’t at work as a sales associate with Chilliwack Ford. He’s been filling online orders for months from his Blackfish Design T-Shirts Facebook page, using his own funds to purchase shirts up front, and printing two separate T-shirt designs, all in in time for Thursday.
Baginski credits his mom, Carol Anderson, for supporting him in getting the T-shirt idea going and for expanding it. He also credits Angela Thomson, general manager at Original Joe’s in Chilliwack for sharing the orange T-shirt project with corporate owners of Original Joe’s, who decided to purchase enough shirts to outfit their restaurant teams in Kamloops and Vernon as well.
“Working at Chilliwack Ford, I was able to do this run as not-for-profit,” Baginski said.
He feels very fortunate that he was in a financial position to give all the proceeds above cost to his survivors’ charity of choice, and he’s grateful for all who supported the effort. He was also happy to commission his cousin, Evan Aster Sr., to complete part of one of the designs.
The residential school Baginski attended was Christie Residence on Meares Island near Tofino, from 1983 to 1984, with his three sisters. He was eight years old, and it closed for good soon after.
“We were lucky. We were only there for one year,” Baginski added. Those long-ago experiences, forged in a system designed to take the Indian out of the child, are still “fresh in the mind,” he said.
Baginski’s designs speak to the collective horror washing over Canadian society as a whole in the months since first hearing of the 215 unmarked graves of school children in Kamloops earlier this summer, and the hundreds found since then elsewhere.
Both designs feature a heart breaking in two. The hand prints lend strength to whoever wears the shirts, commemorating the tragic history.
“As Indigenous people, these are truths that we’ve always known,” Baginski said.
“It’s just taken a while for the rest of society to know them.”
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