A hot fashion item this summer on Ontario First Nations' reserves is a T-shirt with the lettering "Caucasians" and the grinning logo of Chief Wahoo, the much-derided mascot of the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team.
Tracy Bomberry said she had plenty of favourable comments when wearing her Caucasians shirt to a pow wow in her community of Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford last weekend.
"People's reaction has been all positive and they see the humour in it both on and off the reserve," Bomberry said in an interview.
She said she bought her T-shirt to make a humorous statement after reading that Ojibwa singer DJ NDN of A Tribe Called Red was accused of racism for wearing one last month.
"I thought how hypocritical that he would be accused of racism for wearing a shirt that turns the tables in a satirical way of how our image as native people has been misappropriated by the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins and the like," Bomberry said.
She noted there's an online movement that includes use of the Twitter hashtag #NotYourMascot to change what she called degrading and derogatory team names and logos.
"I have read comments of some of the fans of those sports teams who say they are 'honouring' us with those images," Bomberry said. "So I have to say unequivocally I do not feel honoured by those outdated, offensive team mascots and names, and think its time they be changed. And if we can draw attention to that by turning the tables using a bit of humour then why not?"
Interest in the shirts escalated on reserves after threats last month to boycott the Westfest Music Festival in Ottawa where A Tribe Called Red was scheduled to perform.
Deejay NDN, who was born Ian Campeau, had earlier filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to protest the name of the Nepean Redskins football team, which he said was offensive to First Nations people.
The team changed its name to Eagles after the complaint.
T-shirt maker Brian Kirby of Shelf Life Clothing in Cleveland said the "Caucasians" shirt has been his most popular seller since he began making them in 2007, but interest "skyrocketed" after the Deejay NDN controversy, especially after the story hit Reddit and Facebook.
"We have had over 3,000 shares on posts about the tee in the last month, and have been working around the clock to keep up," Kirby said.
Kirby said that a quarter of his orders for the shirts over the past month have come from Canada, as well as 13 per cent of his Facebook likes.
More than 100 shirts were shipped to Ontario since the DJ NDN controversy, and orders have come from as far away as Australia and Sweden, Kirby said.
Ironically, not all of the shirt-buyers share Bomberry's politics.
"We are selling tees to a wide range of customers - indigenous peoples and Chief Wahoo supporters alike," Kirby said.
"Interpretation of the shirt ranges from a 'reverse racism,' 'see how YOU like it' intent, to a 'see, I'm white and it doesn't bother me to be caricatured!' attitude," Kirby said.
Kirby said he has never had any feedback from the team.
The Cleveland Indians did not reply to an interview request from The Star.
Ironically, as the Caucasians T-shirts are becoming more popular on reserves, the Indians baseball team has been deemphasizing the logo.
The team has quietly made a large "C" their primary logo, playing down the grinning Chief Wahoo logo.