As part of our #YFR project, students in Pikangikum and Markham created special designs that art students at Markham District High School screen printed by hand on t-shirts and tote bags.
The t-shirts and totes are available to purchase, with all money going towards the purchase of baby items (baby food, baby formula and diapers) to support families in need of these items in Pikangikum (a need identified by our YFR partners there). As is the case for many remote First Nations communities, the cost for these items (already costly to buy in the GTA) is often that much more expensive to purchase in isolated First Nations communities.
To learn more about this aspect of our project please check out our video!
Please look for the design on the item that you purchased below and read the message that the artist and students involved in the YFR project in both communities have collaboratively authored and would like to share with you about it:
It is important to treat others with respect in order to have positive relationships and to build trust. Being rude will get you nowhere and no one wants to be around someone who is being disrespectful. Being humble means you do things out of the kindness of your heart, without the expectation of anything in return. It’s all about the simple actions like holding a door open for someone, or giving small change to strangers who are short on cash at stores. Respect, trust, kindness, and empathy are just some of the ingredients needed to form and sustain lasting relationships. Unfortunately, relationships often deteriorate because such ingredients are not reciprocated. If we take a moment to honestly reflect on Canada’s full history, it is clear that many settlers did not treat Indigenous peoples with respect, kindness, empathy, nor trust. The formation of residential schools is a prime example of this. These federally funded schools, which were run by the Catholic church, tore Indigenous families apart by forcibly taking their children. What’s more devastating is that these innocent children were banned from speaking in their native tongue and practicing their culture. These rules were enforced so that children would be “less savage” and more easily assimilated into Canadian culture. As we now know, the punishment and abuse that children received if they did not cooperate left them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken. Above all, it vanquished any trust that they may have had in the government. Today, the effects of this are omnipresent in Indigenous communities due to intergenerational trauma. However, this cycle can’t be allowed to continue and our national relationship can’t remain broken. Although the Canadian government has taken some steps to help repair the irreparable damage caused, so much more needs to be done. So many Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples have hope that harmony can be restored across our nation. But hope is not enough. Being silent or passive will not help. What will help? For starters, becoming aware and then becoming involved. By visiting this website you’ve already proven that you care enough to learn more. You are aware. But what will you do next? How will you actively be part of this reconciliation?
In Pikangikum there’s a lot of garbage outside – it’s everywhere. When you first go to the dump there is this sign that says “Do Not Dump Garbage.” The irony is that right after that sign, there are mounds of garbage piled on top of each other, which is why it’s called the Dump. Pikangikum needs to start recycling our garbage. We should have more awareness for items we can reuse, instead of buying something new every time in order to keep garbage from piling up and to keep Pikangikum clean. Excessive waste and pollution is an issue that affects all of us. Whether you are reading about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, witnessing the effects of global warming, or observing the debris in our own community, it is evident that our garbage is impacting our environment significantly. In Markham, we are fortunate enough to have access to recycling programs in an effort to reduce the amount of waste we produce. Every week, we have our waste and recyclable materials picked up. In spite of this, pollution and excessive waste is still an issue here, just as it is in Pikangikum. However, in isolated communities such as Pikangikum, there is little infrastructure in general, and certainly no government supported multimillion dollar recycling plants or programs. The piles of garbage in “the dump” are a by-product of this lack of infrastructure. Even in Markham, a community that has the benefit of an extensive waste and recycling system, we can see evidence of our own waste all around us. Clearly, more action is needed in order to ensure that we are reducing our waste and recycling properly. If governments accept responsibility and acknowledge that we are in fact harming the environment by not ensuring this infrastructure is in place in every community, we can not only improve the world for ourselves as well as the generations to come.
My piece is about nature, and how we can sometimes get lost in our own minds. My piece matches my theme because if we take a moment to reflect on our life and our minds, we can understand the world and ourselves a bit more. The focal point of my piece is of the mountain range and water, representing the top of the figure’s head. This is the focal point because I want people to think about why I’ve removed the top of the head, and added a nature setting instead. My piece connects my understanding of First Nations because nature is a big part of their culture, and I’ve always loved nature, traveling, and just being outside. I also did some research of First Nations symbols, and the sun that I included is one symbol that hold great significance.
My piece represents the overall struggles of Indigenous people and their culture. I etched a whale sitting on a stool in a small room looking at a painting of the ocean, which is supposed to symbolize how animals such as whales are starting to become endangered and even extinct. This is sad. Wildlife is also greatly connected to Indigenous beliefs, traditions and culture. The focal point of my piece is the whale on the stool. The whale is placed directly in the middle to heighten the importance to the viewer. My piece connects my personal understanding with the First Nations peoples because, like them, I appreciate and enjoy nature and wildlife. My piece demonstrates how wildlife are becoming extinct or damaged by modern civilization which is a shameful. I demonstrate this by making the whale look rather sad and alone sitting on a small stool in a small room.
“Two Horses”: My piece starts with my culture and myself. In the Chinese culture each New year is celebrated with an animal from the Sheng Xiao cycle and the horse is the seventh rank. With each symbol there is always a meaning and the animals of the Chinese cycle has a famous fable to it. The horse in my culture has a deeper meaning. Those who are born in the year of the horse are said to be intelligent, fast, successful, faithful and kind. My father was born in the year of the horse and I wanted to represent my culture through a horse. However, in the FNMI culture there is a different meaning of the horse. Through my understanding in the book “Indian Horse,” the horse represents honour and change to the FNMI culture. The focal point of the piece is the horse because I wanted it to symbolize both my culture and the culture of FNMI. In the background, there is a dream catcher representing the FNMI culture however inside the dream catcher it is a mooncake design representing my culture. Typically, the mooncake has simple abstract designs and it is eaten during the new year.
“Strong Roots”: My piece is about being unified, and having support from those around you. In order to understand other people you have to be able to see things from their point of view, and be able to form relationships with them. Also, a lot of different groups of people in the world of different ethnicities, religions, and nationalities have disputes. I believe that the root of these disputes are a lack of understanding. If people communicated their ideas rather than resorting to violence, then an understanding could be built that might lead to a mutual respect. The focal point of my piece is the willow tree because the willow tree holds a special significance to me. It was my grandfather’s favorite tree, so I included it as a tribute to him. I made that the largest and most detailed tree so that it would be eye-catching. I made the trees evenly spaced so that all of the trees seemed to be of equal importance. I thought it would be interesting to show the tree, as well as the roots. The roots of a tree are not usually visible, but they are the only things stopping the tree from falling over. They allow the tree to absorb and replace nutrients in the soil. I wanted the roots to represent stability, as well as the support and cooperation of different people. These unseen connections between people are so important to this world. All of the trees look different from each other, which represents the differences that each person has. Although the trees all look different, they have the same necessities because inside they are all the same. In my English class, we are co-operating on a project with the students of Pikangikum. From reading about their thoughts on their community, I have gathered that they are a very tight knit community, with close bonded families. They help each other, and are each other’s roots, providing stability. They are presenting a united front against all of the issues their community faces, for example isolation, poverty, and alcoholism. They want to network and bond with other people, to make people care about these issues.
“See Through”: My piece is about identity and seeing more than what’s just on the surface. The theme for this project is ‘I am the starting point to deeper understanding,’ which I interpret as what you see of a person on the outside is just the beginning to discovering who they are, what defines them, and what they’ve experienced. The focal point of my design was intended to be the eyes. In general, when you look at a person’s face, you look at their eyes first. I tried to accentuate that by having eyes of two different colours (Since it’s black and white, one eye is dark and one is light). This goes with what my piece is about and also the theme, because the eyes are the windows to the soul. A lot of people think you can see a great deal about a person by looking into their eyes. My piece is fairly simple in composition, as it’s in portrait format. The person’s hand overlaps onto the mask, and the hair overlaps the body. The original vision I had for this design was to have a girl removing a mask (Which would cover half her face). The mask would be a normal looking face, but the rest of her would be kind of whimsical and unique looking. The idea comes from my experiences with other people and how they see me. I find it interesting, but also a bit frustrating that you never know how people perceive you. The mask represents what others see of a person, and the rest of the girl represents a person’s true self. I included symbols that are important in my life, such as the violin inspired skeleton to symbolize music. This relates to the identity of First Nations children who were in residential schools. Children in the residential schools had to hide their culture and beliefs from the priests and teachers who would hurt them for expressing themselves. They had to hide their identity, as if they were wearing a mask. I specifically chose to include musical symbols not only because of their importance to me, but because I know music is a huge part of First Nations culture.
“Coastal Mountains”: The subject of my design focuses on mountains on the northwest coast of Canada which are home to many First Nations people, such as the Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Coastal Salish and Haisla. I was inspired by the rugged and mountainous Canadian landscape and its simple yet dynamic forms. On a recent trip to Vancouver, I visited Grouse Mountain and participated in a First Nations learning afternoon. The experience was beautiful and simple. The view of the mountains and the rest of Vancouver from so high up was mystical and everything below seemed so uncomplicated. My piece attempts to capture the atmosphere and spirituality of the First Nations people and my experience on their land. Nature was my biggest source of inspiration. The form, lines, texture history and storytelling of my experience on the northwest coast will forever be etched in this design.
This image represents Indigenous children in residential schools. It shows a child missing his parents while he is at the school. The child thinks of his parents night and day. He cries himself to sleep during bedtime and wakes up thinking about his parents in the morning. Indigenous children were mistreated in these schools, where everything they knew was taken away from them. By remembering his parents, the child remembers his language, his culture, his relatives and loved ones, and everything about the land and home that he was taken away from. Residential schools were created in Canada with the intent to “kill the Indian in the child.” Children were forced to attend these schools and their parents faced imprisonment if they did not send them to these institutions. Approximately 150,000 children attended these residential schools during their operation, with the last school closing in 1996. Often, students attending these schools were intentionally separated from their parents, siblings and communities. Not only were children separated from their families, but they were deliberately disconnected from, and punished for practicing any element of their culture. Every aspect of their culture was forbidden. To ensure obedience, students were punished severely for practicing any aspect of their culture. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that thousands of students were killed while attending residential schools. The psychological, emotional and physical trauma students at these schools faced is undeniable. Generations of children suffered unimaginable hardships and treatment as a result of the residential school system. It is clear that the impact of these schools is still felt to this day as Indigenous peoples work to reclaim their culture and identity after enduring over 130 years of the government’s attempt to commit cultural genocide.
I chose to focus on the issue with language. Students here are slowly starting to lose our language. When they go to school, they should always have the option of learning their language. They should receive teachings from local teachers or even elders who know the proper terms of things. We are mostly taught English at school, being told that it’s our “official national language” and that success cannot be found without it. I hardly hear people speak their language properly anymore in my community. Language also defines our identities. By showing a person made out of Ojibwe syllabics, I am creating a representation of how a language can make up the identity of a person. The recognition of Indigenous language rights, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is a key aspect of reconciliation. As a result of centuries of cultural repression, and the implementation of the residential school system, indigenous peoples today are working to reclaim their language, culture and identity. Residential schools were operational in Canada for over 130 years by the time the last residential school was shut down in 1996. Throughout this time period, generations of Indigenous children were stripped of their native languages and cultures. These schools were explicitly designed to assimilate the indigenous population with the rest of Canada. Approximately 150,000 children attended these schools throughout their operation. To this day, despite the Canadian government’s recognition that cultural genocide was committed against indigenous people, there has still been no legislation introduced to protect indigenous languages in Canada. This is alarming considering, according to recent census data, the number of indigenous people who are fluent in their mother tongue has dropped by nearly 50% in the last 20 years to 14.5% (CBC). It is these individuals who are fluent in their native languages that educate future generations so that they too may reclaim that part of their identity and culture. This is particularly important as inherent in any language is a way of seeing and interacting with the world. For this reason, the reclamation and preservation of indigenous languages is paramount. Although It is clear that Indigenous youth are recognizing the importance of learning about and preserving their unique languages and cultures, more needs to be done at a systemic level to ensure that these crucial aspects of identity are not lost forever. The idea that English and French are our official national languages is a perplexing one, considering the fact that both languages are foreign to this country.
The issue in Pik is that we lose our harmony. We lost our harmony with each other – we used to rely on each other and ask each other for help. Now there is very little harmony left in Pikangikum. This image shows two people working together and finding balance between themselves, and the world around them. It represents what we are trying to do in Pikangikum now. We are fighting to get this harmony back. It will be a long journey, but we’ll get there. This concept of harmony is something that is somewhat unfamiliar, at least on a societal level, in many non-Indigenous communities. Harmony is not something that we are very conscious of, or talk about explicitly. In non-Indigenous communities we are often taught the importance of independence, bravery, and confidence. But the opposite is what’s important. In class we have talked about how it’s interdependence, vulnerability, and a willingness to recognize that there’s so much that you don’t know that’s important. In many non-Indigenous communities there exists a standard definition of “success”. Get a job, buy a home, raise a family. Sit in traffic every day. Make enough money to pay off your debt. Our communities are full of subdivisions and it feels like we’re all the same. We’re out of balance. Our monetary assets mean nothing. Relationships are what’s important. Harmony is what’s important. We have lost it, our communities have lost it, and the environment has lost it. It’s time that we get it back. We need to get it back. What are you going to do to help restore it?
Some people apply for a job interview. Most of the time, these people get skipped over for other people that employers already had in mind. In other cases, they get the interview, but not the job. Lack of employment opportunities and frustrations surrounding different hiring practices is something that impacts many people in Pikangikum greatly as there are few job fields that are available here. There was a time when Indigenous people in Canada were not legally allowed to become professionals and also keep their native “status”. This meant that if an Indigenous person pursued a career as a teacher, a doctor, or a lawyer, for example, they lost their “Indian status”. While this is no longer the case, the Canadian government has created other barriers that make it difficult for some Indigenous people living on reserves to pursue the same career opportunities afforded to students in non-Indigenous communities. Schools located on reserves are federally funded (a legacy of colonialism that still exists today harkening back to the Residential School system). Schools located off-reserve (such as in the GTA, for example) are provincially funded. Additionally, Indigenous students in those federally funded schools in First Nations communities receive less funding per student (approximately 30% less funding) than students in provincially funded schools off reserve. An example of how this impacts these communities includes that for some schools on reserves this means that they do not have the ability to offer the same courses (e.g. both applied and academic level classes) as they do in off-reserve schools Despite these obstacles every day Indigenous people both pursue and experience great success in a variety of careers. This past Fall Dr. Nadine Caron became Canada’s first First Nations general surgeon. Just a couple of months ago Captain Robyn Shlachetka and First Officer Raven Beardy made history as the first Indigenous women medivac team in the province of Manitoba. Students in Pikangikum have shared their frustrations with the lack of employment opportunities on reserve in their community. These are youth that hold within them the power to accomplish amazing things both within their community and outside it. All Indigenous students in all communities should be afforded the same educational opportunities as non-Indigenous students all across the country.
My graphic design is called “Time in a bottle” because it shows the desperation and isolation of a person suffering from alcohol addiction. My design features a Native American Chief trapped and drowning in a bottle of whiskey. The bottle, alone at the bottom of the sea, represents the loneliness of a person, cold with no one around. What I chose for a topic was the heavy dependence on alcohol on some reservations. The constant substance abuse has destroyed the Indigenous ways of living in some of those communities. Saul struggles with alcohol and this is an issue that still affects Pikangikum as well – many people suffer from addictions. This issue grows stronger with each generation and not a lot has been done to fix this ongoing community problem. This image represents what I see in my community, where great people struggle to deal with a substance in a bottle. Succumbing to alcohol will ensure a path to self-destruction. Addiction is a social issue in many communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Markham is no exception. Drugstores here have begun making naloxone kits available due to the increase in opioid use and accidental overdose. If you do a Google search looking for addiction services in Markham or York Region a number of results come up. The same services are not available in a number of First Nations communities, sometimes at all, or at least to the extent that they are available in off-reserve communities. A further inequity that exists and must be addressed is the lack of funding the Canadian government provides First Nations communities for the same mental health and addiction supports that are available in most non-Indigenous communities. First Nations communities had their land taken from them by settlers, the government those settlers formed here created reserves where they forced Indigenous people to settle, and then the government did nothing to support those communities. IN fact, they hoped that this would force Indigenous people to leave and assimilate. That legacy of colonialism is still experienced today. That’s the truth, now where’s the reconciliation?
**T-shirt/Tote bag care instructions: Please place a tea towel over the image and iron over top when you take it home. This will help to ensure that the image sets really well on your item. Then wash and dry as normal (we recommend turning the item inside out). Thank you for supporting YFR!