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Indigenous artist teams with Orange Shirt Day founder for new children’s book

Phyllis Webstad, Tsilhqot’in artist to bring Every Child Matters to life for children 6 and up

Illustrator Karlene Harvey and author and founder of Orange Shirt Society Phyllis Webstad both have voices you could imagine quietly reading a child a bedtime story.

Harvey has a sweet, kind voice over the phone, while Webstad’s soft-spoken manner sounds wise and gentle.

It seems appropriate they both sound so well-suited to reading children’s stories, because the two women worked together to create a new children’s book titled Every Child Matters.

Orange Shirt Day and Every Child Matters go together, said Webstad, whose story of the bright new orange shirt taken away from her on her first day of residential school inspired an international phenomenon and is helping bring awareness of the impacts of residential schools.

Webstad will be marking the 10-year anniversary of the establishment of Orange Shirt Day this year on Sept. 30, 2023.

Webstad said she had realized she didn’t have a book for the theme of Every Child Matters and so she asked her publisher about a project to create one.

The book is partly a response to some critics suggesting the Every Child Matters slogan and campaign was copying Black Lives Matter.

Webstad said Every Child Matters came about in March of 2013, while Black Lives Matter came about in July of 2013.

But she said the project was also meant to help clarify the importance of the Every Child Matters slogan alongside Orange Shirt Day.

“From the very beginning, the Orange Shirt Day, Every Child Matters has been divinely guided, and I won’t change it, it’s not up for discussion,” Webstad asserts in her gentle voice, noting people would ask her why it wasn’t Indigenous Children Matter, or other things.

She said the story in this book starts from far back in the past, when Indigenous families were together and then, with colonial impact and residential schools in particular, families were ripped apart, teachings were interrupted and language, dances and songs were forbidden.

“We weren’t allowed by the federal government to be who we were meant to be,” she said, noting the book retells her orange shirt story briefly and some of the traumatic events around residential schools, but it also ends with hope and healing, as families come back together.

Webstad, who has one son, said he and his wife are the first in five generations of Webstad’s family to be raising their own children under the same roof.

“Granny, mom, me and my son didn’t have that, the family was broken,” she said.

“But now, the family unit is back together and the future is bright, there is hope.”

Webstad describes how her eldest grandson, just turned 19 years old, is still comfortable at home and being supported in his decisions by his parents while he decides what he wants to do next.

While the family struggles financially with five children, she helps them how she can and she said they are doing their best with what they know how. The youngest is three years old, the eldest, 19.

Webstad was on her way to Kamloops to celebrate her grandson’s birthday the day she spoke to Black Press Media.

Webstad chose Karlene Harvey as the illustrator to bring Every Child Matters to life, partly because she wanted the images to be somewhat realistic while also being “cartoon” enough to be engaging for children.

Another reason she chose Harvey was because the young artist is Tsilhqot’in on her mother’s side, from the community of Tl’etinqox (Anaham) though she grew up in Langley. She is Okanagan on her father’s side.

“When I was a kid I used to want to be a cartoonist,” said Harvey, who later recognized her art as a passion she might want to pursue for a degree program.

Harvey attended Emily Carr, and explored a broader range of artistic mediums and forms, but has returned to her love for illustration.

“I just feel like it’s really been something that I’m so happy to get back into,” she said.

She had worked with the publisher previously on another book, and he recalled Harvey’s mom Terry Harvey (Mack) had attended St. Joseph’s Mission, so thought Karlene would be a good fit for this project.

Harvey said the residential schools impacted people’s connections to culture and language.

“It’s really hard for survivors to talk about their experiences,” she said, noting while her mom may not speak about her residential experiences with her daughter, books like this one and the other work Webstad does help the siblings of her mom’s generation to talk about it amongst one another.

“Which I think is such an important healing step for people and families and communities.”

Harvey credited the way Webstad writes with emotion from her own perspective with helping bring the story to light.

The illustrator said it was a great experience working on the story to determine the best pictures for what Phyllis wanted to express, noting the historical perspective of this book helps convey the long timeline of the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous families over so many generations.

“I’m just really excited to see the reception of people who get to read it, whether that’s in classrooms or in communities,” she said, noting there was a lot of care put into creating it and she feels it will resonate with readers.

“I’m really honoured to have been a part of it,” said Harvey about the project.

“I think the work Phyllis is doing has really created such a ripple effect,” she said.

Harvey juggles being an artist on the side with being a mother to a toddler as well as being an academic advisor to Indigenous students at UBC.

“It’s a lot of midnight hours.”

Every Child Matters was released on Aug. 8, 2023 and is available at local bookstores including The Open Book in Williams Lake.

Along with this new children’s book for ages six and up, the Orange Shirt Society has also released a condensed version of Webstad’s Orange Shirt Day book called Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters: Abridged version. The paperback book targets teens in the new version of her award-winning story.

READ ALSO: Orange Shirt Society founder hopeful for future of Indigenous families

Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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