Sylvan Laker, Tracey Grienke grew up not knowing of her Indigenous heritage, roots, and culture. As she grew older, she was inspired to learn more, share her knowledge and educate people on the Indigenous culture one t-shirt at a time.
“They are Indigenous learning T-shirts. Each T-shirt comes with a card explaining the cultural meaning of the T-shirt. One of the T-shirts is called ‘the drummer,’ and there's a Thunderbird on it and it explains what the Thunderbird is about,” explained Grienke, Owner of Let Them Play Apparel.
She says her designs are a modern take on Indigenous culture and teachings. They also feature her own ideas and designed by local Indigenous artists.
The branding of the shirts, ‘Let Them Play’ is a reference to a local mural located in the Town of Sylvan Lake. The mural was created in memorial for the unmarked graves of children who never came home from residential schools. The project was also spearheaded by Tracey Grienke herself.
“Let Them Play is we found you, we hear you, you are free now, go, let’s play. It’s not just for the native culture, but any child in the in the world that has been hurt by negligence or abuse. We acknowledge you and it's time to play,” explained Grienke.
She noted that her family has suffered cultural erasure following their experiences at residential schools.
“My family went to residential schools and it was very effective. My mom’s mom was very embarrassed to be even known as native. We had no culture at all. She moved away from the reserve, moved to Alberta, didn't have any indigenous culture at all, didn't speak, read, and just didn't want to be around Indigenous people,” explained Grienke.
Tracey took interest in learning more about her culture and started taking courses on Indigenous culture. She wanted to share her knowledge in a modern way with everyone willing to learn including her own mom.
“It's kind of backwards, but it's just the way she was raised. I took a very big interest in it and I just thought it was such a beautiful culture that I I'm going to learn. Now, I'm teaching her, I'm teaching my siblings, and teaching anybody,” said Grienke.
Additionally, part of the proceeds from Grienke’s T-Shirt sales goes towards the Stardale Women’s Group which helps young women aged 12 to 18 learn more about Indigenous culture and aids them in overcoming systemic barriers.
As for last week’s visit from Pope Francis, Grienke wasn’t particularly impressed with the Pope’s apology after having made a visit to the Vatican herself in May.
“I was shocked at the grandeur of it I guess the opulence and the money. It didn't even feel like we were in a holy place. It felt like we were at a religious Disneyland like it was all about the money all about the power. I was just very put off. They don't pay taxes,” she explained.
“I grew up in Catholic schools I don't follow the religion, but I just couldn't believe when I was at the Vatican how much money there was. Yet, there was not even clean water on reservations and with how much it costs Canada to get ready for the Pope.”
However, Grienke remains hopeful at the prospect of the Pope’s visit gave some people what they need grieve and heal.
“People wanted him to come on our land and say sorry and he did so let's start to heal. I think I got my next T-shirt. It is going to be ‘time to heal’.
You can check out Let Them Play Apparel by clicking here.