VIU students may have noticed orange heart-shaped pins for sale in the campus bookstore. Picking one up, they may also notice that the fifteen-dollar sale supports the Orange Shirt Society.
What they may not know is the poignant story behind these hearts-and-hands pins by Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist, and University of Victoria professor, Carey Newman (Ha-yalth-kingeme).
The story begins at Newman’s child’s elementary school. The students were doing a totem project, and the wall behind the totem pole was being decorated with a handprint from each student. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, not every student was able to come in to contribute their handprint. Instead, hearts were painted to represent each missing hand.
Newman said that the day the school’s totem project was unveiled began “filled with hope and inspiration.” However, by the end of the day, it was announced that the remains of over two hundred Indigenous children were discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Newman described it as “a real polarity.” The elementary school kids were singing and celebrating in the morning, only for the news from Kamloops to come in in the afternoon.
Newman said several news outlets reached out to him for interviews in the following days. They wanted to hear his take on the horrific discovery. But Newman didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, he made a hearts-and-hands shirt design in the vein of the Orange Shirt movement, which gained a lot of support.
Janice Simcoe, part of the faculty of Camosun College’s Indigenous Education & Community Connections, suggested to Newman that he carry his hearts-and-hands design over to the medium of a pin. Newman reflected how people wear their orange shirts on September 30, and maybe two or three more times a year. Meanwhile, a pin is “something people could wear every day.”
Newman reached out to post-secondary facilities across the Island, asking if they would participate in selling his pins. Everywhere agreed, and the reception has been grand. UVIC and Camosun College “sold out almost immediately.”
Proceeds go to worthy areas such as an Indigenous scholarship at Camosun, UVIC elders, and Newman’s Witness Blanket project. Newman plans to expand the pins’ availability to other organizations in the next year.
Newman explained the hearts on his pin represent “love, the reason that we care, [and] emotion that makes something important.” Meanwhile, the hands represent the work that must be done.
“I hope that it leads to conversations and actions,” Newman said of his pins. “I know how willing people in this country are to calls to action,” he adds, but notices hesitance at sacrifices and uncomfortable work.
“We should probably never say we’re just going on move on [from Indigenous issues],” he said. He mentioned the evacuations in BC brought on by the flooding in the fall and winter. Actions were rightly taken to resolve this state of emergency quickly. But Newman points out that “in this country, Indigenous communities have been in states of emergencies for fifty years.”
Newman said that while Canada is seen globally as an admirable country of justice, such is not the case for Indigenous people. Whether it’s Indigenous people imprisoned, Indigenous children taken into social services, or Indigenous communities without clean water, Newman points out these are “fundamental human rights issues.”
Resolving these issues are his idea of reconciliation. “That’s when we can move on,” he said.
Newman acknowledged with a laugh that this is a lot of work for one pin. But he doesn’t think after the events of this past summer that the country can go back to ignoring its dark history of residential schools and the need for reconciliation.
A Master Carver and the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest at the University of Victoria, Newman is a busy man. He is currently working on art projects that deal with climate change and its effects on old-growth forests. He lists climate change and reconciliation as two important topics to him as an Indigenous man. He hopes his art will draw attention to these issues the same way his pins have.
So if you see Newman’s orange hearts-and-hands pin by the cashier in the bookstore as you’re picking up poster paper for that final project, or another VIU rabbit hoodie to battle the most recent atmospheric river, consider picking one up. It will be fifteen dollars very well spent.
Isabella Ranallo is a third-year Creative Writing student at VIU. She's loved storytelling ever since she stole a sheet of her mother's office paper at age four to write the first page of a story about ten kids stranded on a desert island. Her short story, "The Journal," was published in VIRL and Rebel Mountain Press' In Our Own Teen Voice 2019. These days, she spends her free time scribbling away in Moleskine notebooks or searching for cat-inspired stationery.View all articles