RRC Polytech partners with Ininew artist and grad on original design for Orange Shirt Day

September 29, 2023

RRC Polytech has partnered with Graphic Design graduate Leticia Spence — an Ininew artist and entrepreneur from Pimicikamak in Treaty 5 Territory — to create an original design for Orange Shirt Day and Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is tomorrow, Sept. 30.

“Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters is a solemn day where we recognize and honour residential school survivors and those who never made it back to their families,” says Carla Kematch, Director, Truth and Reconciliation and Community Engagement at RRC Polytech.

“It’s a day where we take action and raise awareness of the efforts that Indigenous communities and advocates make to find Indigenous children and bring them home. The world needs to know what happened at residential schools and why this work is important. Expressing our message through Indigenous art, teachings and symbolism is how we can heal.

“We’re so honoured to have worked with artist and alumna Leticia Spence. She shared her knowledge and skill to help convey this message of justice and created such a striking and meaningful representation of Every Child Matters.”

Spence graduated from the College in 2019 and has done work for Indigenous Tourism of Canada, the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, among many other organizations. She created the new Orange Shirt design in consultation with a committee of Indigenous staff members at RRC Polytech.

Spence’s design is intricate and intentional. As with the beadwork she observed family members creating while she was growing up, she wanted to ensure that the Orange Shirt design incorporated the intended energy represented by the Every Child Matters movement.

Close-up of the graphic designed by RRC Polytech grad Leticia Spence for Orange Shirt Day.“I want whoever is wearing this t-shirt to feel a sense of hope and strength as they honour those who are currently being found, while also knowing that it’s okay to create space to honour themselves, as either direct residential school survivors or intergenerational survivors,” says Spence.

The design features a tree made up of florals, medicines and roots. Hummingbirds flank the tree, surrounded by rosehips, rosebuds and berries. First Nations, the Métis Nation, and the Inuit Nation are represented by symbols deeply intertwined with each nation: the cardinal directions, a wild rose forming an infinity, and fireweed flowers.

Every stroke and line forms a deliberate connection to Indigenous People — even the physical linework reflects Ininiwak beadwork, a traditional artform passed down through the generations. Every purchase of the shirt includes an artist’s statement, written by Spence, outlining the many representations present in the design.

RRC Polytech grad Sean Rayland-Boubar, owner of Red Rebel Armor, standing in front of the Campus store.This year, RRC Polytech also partnered with Red Rebel Armour — owned and operated by Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship graduate Sean Rayland-Boubar, of Peguis First Nation — to produce the shirts.

“My Brothers’ and Sisters’ voices were silenced for too long,” says Rayland-Boubar. “To me, Orange Shirt Day means giving a voice to all the children who were robbed of their culture, family, strength and song. A song that never had a chance to be heard, a drum that never found its rhythm.

“A celebration of spirit that should have had a lifetime to flow with the rivers, run with the wind, connect their spirit in ceremony and follow the path that Creator had laid out. It’s about Reconciliation, bringing the darkness to light and talking about the truth.”

Shirts are available for purchase at the RRC Polytech Campus Stores, with all proceeds going to support the Mínwastánikéwin Truth and Reconciliation Award when applications open in January 2024.

Mínwastánikéwin is a Cree word meaning to set it right; the award, valued at $1,000, is intended to alleviate some of the financial burden Indigenous students may experience each year.

Artist Peatr Thomas, designer of RRC Polytech's first Orange Shirt Day design.

In 2022, artist Peatr Thomas created the first RRC Polytech Orange Shirt, the proceeds of which, along with a $1,000 donation from the RRC Polytech Students’ Association, allowed for two students to receive the award in February 2023.

This year marks the fifth annual Truth and Reconciliation Week at RRC Polytech. Events span over two weeks, including nearly 20 student-, staff- and community-led sessions and self-guided resources aimed at educating the College community about the many different facets and responsibilities of Truth and Reconciliation.

This year, nearly 90 volunteers from all areas of the College joined the TRC Week Planning Committee to help organize events, activities and learning opportunities.

RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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