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aboriginal culture

The Canadian designers tapped to outfit Team Canada at the Olympic opening ceremony have issued an open letter apologizing to all aboriginal people for using a derogatory term last year to promote a women's collection featuring "indigenous flair."

The mea culpa marks Dsquared2's first apology since it dubbed its Fall/Winter 2015 women's collection #dsquaw – a reference to an insult that is demeaning to indigenous women. It comes two weeks after the Hudson's Bay Company announced it had chosen Dsquared2 to design the opening ceremony look for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro – news that prompted a backlash on Twitter and thrust last year's controversy into the headlines anew.

"We are sad that our collection, which was meant to be a celebration of cultures, might have caused hurt through our inappropriate use of words," says the open letter, signed by Dsquared2 founders and twin brothers Dan and Dean Caten. "Our intentions were in good faith but we now understand how this terminology is offensive. We are truly sorry, and apologize for the disrespect this may have caused."

The Toronto-born brothers, whose designs were recently worn by Beyoncé and Justin Bieber, wrote that they will work to educate themselves about First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures. "We can only hope that by making this mistake we have brought attention to this issue, and learn together more about our country's history," they stated.

Dsquared2 sent the letter, which is addressed to Canada's indigenous peoples, to The Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief and a Globe columnist who recently criticized the Olympic partnership. In an e-mail, the Caten brothers said, via a spokeswoman, that the Bay was not involved in the expression of regret. "The apology is coming from our heart," they said. "After the announcement of Canadian Olympics uniforms in collaboration with Hudson's Bay, we realized we did not confront the issue with the correct importance when it happened."

The Bay said in a statement it had started working with Dsquared2 in October of 2014 – several months before the controversy unfolded. "Our goal was to partner with a globally recognized Canadian fashion brand to design the Opening Ceremony look for Team Canada when they go for gold in Rio," the statement said. Both the Bay and the Catens said Dsquared2 felt an apology was necessary and the department store agreed.

The women's collection at issue was unveiled at Milan Fashion Week last spring. Dsquared2 scrubbed its website and social-media feeds of the offensive term, but left photos and a description of the clothes online. The website says the collection has an "indigenous flair" and was inspired by the "enchantment of Canadian Indian tribes" and "the confident attitude of the British aristocracy."

Manitoba's Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson called Dsquared2's apology "the right move," even if it came a year after the issue arose. "It's always a welcome act to start to initiate reconciliation in some way," said the Cree leader, who took part in this week's national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Janice Forsyth, a Cree professor who formerly headed the International Centre for Olympic Studies at Western University, deemed the apology a public-relations move that is too little, too late.

"They're still going to make money," she said. "They're not donating money to [the cause of] missing and murdered indigenous women … I don't hear any money being put into aboriginal sport. This is hollow."

Dsquared2's opening ceremony designs will be revealed in April. "The look is cool and modern, and was inspired by Canada and the maple leaf," the Catens said. "It features a red, white and black colour palette."

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