When Saskatoon Public Schools students, staff and families pull an orange T-shirt over their heads on Sept. 30 they will be wearing art created by a student.
Following a call for submissions a design by Eileen Knox of Marion M. Graham Collegiate was chosen to recognize Orange Shirt Day in schools as the school division honours the Indigenous children who survived residential schools and remembers those who didn't.
"The school division focuses on the circle as being an important symbol in Indigenous cultures. I thought that if I used the shape in my design it would speak out to people." said Knox, a Grade 12 student.
"It represents the struggle, loss and pain that the Canadian residential schools inflicted on the Indigenous peoples," her artist statement reads. "The peaceful face of the child represents the goal of harmony, fairness and recognition between the First Nation population and all other ethnicities."
The design depicts a child's face with closed eyes framed by flowing hair and eagle feathers and includes the phrase Every Child Matters. The long hair and feathers speak to Indigenous culture. The bangs that fall over the child's forehead represent the violations of residential schools, where children had their hair cut short as one of the ways schools attempted to extinguish Indigenous culture.
"When you are learning about these things, (you learn children) went to residential school and they cut their hair. We always talk about hair being part of Indigenous identity . . . it is very personal. When their hair was cut, they were being violated," Knox said.
September 30 is proclaimed as Orange Shirt Day each year by the provincial government. It originated in Williams Lake, B.C., where, during a 2013 commemoration event at a residential school, a story was told about a young female student named Phyllis whose brand-new, orange shirt was taken away on her first day at the school. The orange shirt is a symbol of the many losses experienced by thousands of students and families due to residential schools.
The phrase "Every Child Matters" is used to recognize the value of every child and bring communities together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for future generations
All Saskatoon public schools will recognize Orange Shirt Day. Students are encouraged to wear orange that day and there will be activities and lessons that will foster students' understanding of the impact of residential schools. It is one of many actions Saskatoon Public Schools undertakes as part of the division's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action.
Knox is pleased her design was chosen and appreciative of the feedback from Elders and the division's traditional knowledge keeper that helped fine tune her original design. Her T-shirt will be worn by all Marion Graham staff and hundreds of others within the division both this year and for years to come. And, as part of the recognition for winning the competition, Knox received 25 shirts to share with others.
Knox is an Advanced Placement art student who will submit her final portfolio next spring for College Board adjudication. The public recognition of this piece of work, and its role in sharing an important story, is something that speaks to her commitment to creating art.
"It is my passion. When I do art, I do it to find peace for myself," she said. "In a class I have other goals — to do this or that or do so many pieces — but when I sign up for the class, I'm doing this because it will bring peace for myself. In my day, I look forward to the hour of art. I find it relaxing and I really love it."
Learn more about Orange Shirt Dy at orangeshirtday.org