Each year on Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Canadians wear orange shirts to demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation and honour the survivors of the residential school system, their families and communities.
This year, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Every Child Matters orange shirt was designed by Maggie Allan, campus and community engagement coordinator in Laurier’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives. The shirt is available for purchase at the Hawk Shop (formerly the Laurier Bookstore and Stedman Community Bookstore) with proceeds going to the Woodland Cultural Centre's Indigenous Preservation Museum.
Allan graduated from Laurier in 2008 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Fine Arts. She later earned her Bachelor of Education from Western University before returning to Laurier as a staff member. She has worked at Laurier for 12 years.
Below, Allan discusses her time at Laurier, her orange shirt design, and the importance of reconciliation.
Tell us about your background and what brought you to Laurier.
I was raised on Manitoulin Island and I identified as Métis growing up. More recently, my family discovered that our true linage on my mother’s side is Anishinaabe from Henvey Inlet First Nation. On my father’s side, I have roots to English and Scottish ancestry as well.
I remember visiting Laurier’s Open House and loving the sense of community here and this is what drew me to Laurier to complete my undergraduate degree.
I have experience teaching in secondary schools in the UK, working at not-for-profits in the Kitchener-Waterloo community, and have taken on various roles at Laurier during the last 12 years as a staff member. In my current role as campus and community engagement coordinator in the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, I coordinate events and workshops that align with Laurier’s strong commitment to reconciliation and help advance Indigeneity on the university’s campuses.
Can you describe the elements of your Every Child Matters orange shirt design and the significance of the symbolism in it?
My orange shirt design was inspired loosely from a painting I did when I was 12 years old and gave to my mother. The focal point in the design is of a child’s spirit returning to their family with their arms wide open to protect them. This image is to symbolize and draw awareness to the many lives that were lost to the residential school system in Canada and the families who were and still are impactedby it today. The circular moon formation at the top of the image representsthe connectivity of us all. The dots within the moon represent the beautiful traditional beading of the Métispeople. First Nations peoples are represented in the formation of the figures and standing on the back of Turtle Island. The myths and legends of humans and animal spirits being interconnected of the Inuit people is depicted as well.
You’ve hosted art workshops at Laurier teaching traditional birch bark painting and Métis dot painting.Has practicing art always been important to you?
Yes, I ran workshops for Laurier staff at our Waterloo and Brantford campuses in June to honour and celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. It was a wonderful turn out! I loved seeing the creative talents of our staff and sharing the experience of using traditional art forms. Art is such a powerful tool that allows you to naturally connect with others. My father was artistic and I learned so much from him, as well as observingmy natural surroundings, having spent my summers in Algonquin Park and growing up on Manitoulin Island. Nature certainly ignited my passion for the arts and still motivates me today to be creative.
How did you feel when you first saw your design printed?
I felt very honoured, moved and emotional seeing my design printed for the first time. Being a mother myself with small children and understanding the significance of what the orange shirt represents, it really impacted me. Art has such a powerful ability to draw awareness and educate, so this has truly been a meaningful experience to see my design printed.
When and where can the Laurier community purchase your orange shirt?
This year’s orange shirt will be available online via the Hawk Shopas of the second week of September and will be displayed and available for purchase in store at both our Waterloo and Brantford campuses starting Monday, Sept. 25. It is a sign of support and a step forward in reconciliation to wear the orange shirt. Orange shirts can also be worn outside of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to continuously show awareness and support for survivors and victims of residential schools.
Why is it important for the Laurier community to show support on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
It is an important day of reflection for our Laurier community to acknowledge the truths of our country’s past.It is a day to commemorate the lives that were lost and the survivors who were tragically harmed within the residential school system. It is a day to be mindful of the intergenerational trauma that still exists for families and how this may impact some of our students, staffand faculty. It’s important to reflect on our own efforts toward reconciliation and decolonization today and the steps moving forward that we can each take at Laurier to create a safer and more inclusive campus.
Learn about Laurier’s commitment to Indigeneity in the university’sIndigenous Strategic Plan.