All profits from HBC Point Blanket to go to Indigenous peoples

The Bay has announced that any and all profits from their "point blankets" will be donated to the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack fund. Richard Southern reports.

By Richard Southern and Mike Visser

It’s an iconic product found in many Canadian homes, but it also has a complicated history. Now, the company that markets and sells the HBC Point Blanket is hoping to use that same item to help build bridges of reconciliation.

Moving forward, Hudson’s Bay Foundation says all net proceeds from sales of the Point Blanket will be directed to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. The announcement comes on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

“This is the beginning of a long journey,” Iain Nairn, President and CEO of Hudson’s Bay told CityNews. “We acknowledge our colonial history and as a company today we have a responsibility to lead reconciliation.”

“It sets an incredible example for other companies and corporations to take up and follow,” said Sarah Midanik, President and CEO of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, which will oversee The Blanket Fund.

A complicated and painful history

According to Hudson’s Bay history foundation, the versatile blankets quickly became a popular trading item in the 1700s and also served as clothing, bedding, sails and horse saddles.

British officials have been accused of using the blankets to spread smallpox among First Nations people throughout the 1700s and 1800s. While HBC says there is no evidence that this was done intentionally, the company admits the blanket has a complicated and painful history.

“There’s no question that it contributed to the devastating spread of disease among Indigenous communities,” said Nairn. “We acknowledge all that and that’s part of the reason that we’re making this announcement. We want this to be a kind of force for good in the future.”

With Hudson’s Bay no longer profiting from sales on the blanket, “Oshki Wupoowane” has been chosen as the name for the new benefit fund. The Ojibwe term means “a new blanket” in English.

“The fund is going to be used to support Indigenous individuals, organizations and initiatives that support arts, culture, language, and education,” said Midanik. “What’s really unique about the way that this is going to work is that there’s going to be a real focus on capacity building and the granting process will be based on a participatory framework.”

Those trusted with administering the fund believe the project would bring a smile to the face of Gord Downie. The late Tragically Hip frontman drew global attention to the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy who died after attempting to flee from an Ontario residential school in 1966.

“We very much operate from the sort of ‘What would Gord do mentality?’” said Midanik. “I think this is really something that he’d be proud of. It’s using something so iconic and integral to Canadian identity to really force us to look inwards to acknowledge the true history, the relationship with Indigenous peoples and to say how can we do better and how can we be proud of the society we can create moving forward.”

The Hudson’s Bay Foundation is kicking off the initiative by contributing $1 million to the Blanket Fund. The company is hoping that strong sales of the blanket will help push that amount closer to $2 million this year.

“We have this responsibility to kind of lead corporate Canada, we’re a particularly important company in the history of Canada,” said Nairn. “We have been working on our truth and reconciliation framework for the last two years. We’ve got a number of initiatives; this is just one of many that we’re going to be announcing.”

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