Student artwork depicts strength, resilience of residential school survivors

RED DEER — A Red Deer student’s depiction of a bear was found to be the winning analogy of the strength that is recognized on Orange Shirt Day in honour of residential school survivors.

Red Deer Catholic Schools held an art contest on Sept. 30, which is the date Canadians commemorate the history of residential schools and their impact on Indigenous people.

The winner of the contest was Grade 8 student Deneen Hawryszko from St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School.

“I found the bear was a sign of strength and the symbol inside of it represented protection. The circle the bear is inside also is a symbol of the moon, which represents many things like protection and Grandmother Moon, who is the leader of feminine life, which is a nod to the missing and murdered Indigenous women today,” Hawryszko explained.

The teen added it was important she put a lot of research into the project.

“Especially for the symbol and the bear because I didn’t want it to be wrong and do an injustice to it,” she said.

As the winner, Hawryszko will see her design printed on all of the orange shirts in the school district.

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Support Team coordinator, Selena Frizzley, said the contest was an opportunity for students to develop a better understanding of what Orange Shirt Day is all about. 

“As we work towards reconciliation, our goal for students is to give them the opportunity to reflect on the journey of survivors and their families of residential schools and that every child matters. This helps create and foster a sense of belonging in our schools,” Frizzley told CTV News.

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by a former residential school student, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, who had her orange shirt taken away on her first day at residential school. She was six years old and the shirt was given to her by her grandmother.

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