Student's Orange Shirt Day design a reminder Every Child Matters

Thu, Sep 7, 2023

A Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) student’s new design for Orange Shirt Day carries a strong message about protecting children and remembering those who never returned home from residential schools.

Created by Sylvia Simpson, a fourth-year fine arts student who is of Haida and Cree ancestry, depict a bear claw and salmon egg with the words “Every Child Matters.”

“I thought about the families in the past who would defend their children like a mother bear, and how they would do it again if they had the chance,” says Simpson. “The salmon egg also represents the resilience and the future o

Sylvia Simpson stands, wearing an orange shirt that features a bear claw and salmon egg
f Indigenous peoples, starting with our children and grandchildren.”

Sept. 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, which raises awareness of the individual, family, and community intergenerational impact of residential schools, and to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters.”

“I am a mother, I am Indigenous, and awareness and education on these issues are vital to making change,” says Simpson.

Residential schools for Indigenous children existed in Canada from the 17th century until the late 1990s. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) concluded that residential schools were "a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples." The TRC characterized this intent as "cultural genocide."

Simpson, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy, says her extended family experienced the horrors of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop – a period when Indigenous children were removed from their homes by child welfare authorities.

“I wasn’t told any stories of what happened to family members who were taken away. It was never talked about,” says Simpson, who grew up on Haida Gwaii. “Making the connection they were in these schools or taken was heartbreaking. I decided to work on helping my people heal and do better for the next generation.”

Simpson’s T-shirt design was on full display during an event at KPU Surrey on Thursday (Sept. 7), when a Reconciliation Flag was raised in the campus courtyard to celebrate the resiliency of Indigenous communities.

“Forever remembering the precious children and survivors of residential schools, Sixties Scoop, Indian Day School, and the foster care system – a system that continues to take our children away from families and communities – Sylvia’s inspiration is carrying hope forward for a stronger future for our children and our grandchildren,” says Gayle Bedard, Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Leadership at KPU.

The orange shirts designed by Simpson are available at all KPU bookstores for $21.95 each.