The Hudson’s Bay Foundation and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund have launched the Oshki Wupoowane/The Blanket Fund to support Indigenous cultural, artistic and educational activities in Canada.
One hundred percent of net proceeds from the sale of all HBC point blankets will go to the new fund. In addition, Hudson’s Bay is making a $1 million contribution to kick off the fund.
The Ojibwe “Oshki Wupoowane,” which means “a new blanket” in English, was chosen as the name of the fund in collaboration with the family of Chanie Wenjack, an Ojibwe First Nations child who ran away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario, but died of hunger and exposure while trying to walk 600 kilometers back to his home. Many other indigenous children have died at residential schools in Canada where they were forced to live and separated from their families.
For Hudson’s Bay, forming the fund is another act of reconciliation to Canada’s First Nations. The 352-year-old Hudson’s Bay played a major role in the white colonization of Canada and the exploitation of indigenous peoples through the company’s fur-trading activities centuries ago.
The Hudson’s Bay Foundation is committed to raising $30 million over 10 years to accelerate racial equity in Indigenous communities across Canada, and last April, HBC donated its six-level, 655,000-square-foot former flagship in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which will transform the historic building into a mixed-use site for affordable housing; a health clinic; a child care center; a museum, and a living art gallery where the First Nations community will tell their story. There will also be a restaurant and a café with a take on First Nations’ cuisine, an atrium with skylights and a rooftop garden where children in the care center can plant their own garden, and residents and employees can get some fresh air.
“Our partnership with Hudson’s Bay Foundation in the creation of Oshki Wupoowane/The Blanket Fund is a meaningful action that ultimately increases awareness and understanding of the true history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and is an important Reconcili-action,” stated Sarah Midanik, president and chief executive officer of The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which aims to build cultural understanding and foster reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. “This fund will support Indigenous-led initiatives and will create opportunities throughout Canada for Indigenous people, communities and organizations to build capacity, tell their own stories, and elevate the strength of their communities. This work helps to acknowledge and share more about the defining role HBC played in colonization and is a meaningful step forward on the path toward truth and reconciliation.”
HBC’s point blanket has been called many things through its history: an essential trade item, an enduring emblem of Canada, a carrier of disease, and a symbol of colonialism.
“The HBC point blanket is a powerful representation of the company’s history, and it factors into many different stories and connections to our past,” Iain Nairn, president and CEO of The Bay, said in a statement. “Oshki Wupoonwane/The Blanket Fund very deliberately focuses on grassroots efforts to impact change, and partnering with DWF to ensure the fund is administered by an Indigenous-led organization with national reach, is a critical component. Today’s action is part of many we are taking to reconcile with Indigenous communities.”
DWF will begin accepting applications for the fund early next year and the first round of grants are expected to be awarded in September 2023.