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Island high school student designs Canada’s official Pink Shirt Day shirt

Ucluelet Secondary School artist Koyah Morgan says her design was inspired by Indigenous culture
Koyah Morgan, 17, says her winning design was inspired by praying hands in Indigenous culture. (Nora O’Malley photo)

The emblem for Pink Shirt Day Canada’s 2023 campaign was created by Ucluelet Secondary School Indigenous artist Koyah Morgan.

Initially, Morgan had entered a local design competition with Naut’sa mawt Tribal Council, but WITS (Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, and Seek help) Programs Foundation contacted her soon after she had won the Indigenous contest to express their love of her design.

Morgan’s creation features two hands holding a heart and the words ‘Be Kind’. The 17-year-old artist from Toquaht Nation says she took inspiration from praying hands in Indigenous culture.

“I wanted that to be the centre of my piece. These hands are holding something sacred. Our hearts are very sacred. They are very fragile. We need to take care of that. It’s super important for us just to remember that we are literally carrying the hearts of other people in our hands all of the time and it’s up to use to decide what to do with that. We have to be careful with everyone’s heart,” Morgan said.

As part of her prize for winning the national design contest, Morgan was invited to speak in Victoria at a live Pink Shirt Day Canada broadcast on Feb. 22, Canada’s official day to take a stand against bullying.

“I get to talk a little about my school, my nation Toquaht Nation, and I get to do their formal Indigenous introduction this year,” she said.

Morgan is the granddaughter of Toquaht chief Anne Mack. Toquaht’s main community is Macoah, located in western Barkley Sound. About 40 members live out in Macoah, which is accessible off Highway 4 along Kennedy Lake. The rest of the 135 or so citizens live in Ucluelet or other cities.

“It definitely makes me feel like I’m a part of something. She’s been able to give me so many opportunities to be around my culture and my language even though I don’t really live out in Macoah. For me, it feels really good to be an Indigenous artist that won this competition because our nation is so, so small. It’s often underrepresented. It’s almost hidden away. There are not very many of us,” said Morgan, who is also the president of the high school Surfrider Club and a youth art instructor. Her older sister Bayja won the 2022 Indigenous Marketing Solutions Pink Shirt Day design contest.

Ucluelet Secondary teacher Mike Chapman said a big part of Pink Shirt Day and the anti-bullying movement is making sure everyone is in a good mental space.

“It’s checking in with the kid that might be sitting there having lunch solo,” said Chapman.

Teacher Monique Copeland says the school breakfast program offers a 15-minute window every morning for students to network and share a meal together.

“They are breaking down barriers between groups of students. It’s a great way to include everyone in your friend group,” she said.

Chapman went on to note that the current student council is making a “great impact” on what the school can do by taking leadership roles and planning events.

“When you have great leaders, you have a great school,” said Chapman.

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COLUMN: This Pink Shirt Day, let’s stop with the slut-shaming