Recognizing Native American Heritage Month with artist Mia Ohki

November is Native American Heritage Month. We are thrilled to present this month’s beautiful reimagining of our logo by artist Mia Ohki. Please read below for a statement from the artist and resources. Thank you, Mia, for sharing your talents and this powerful piece with us!

As part of our ongoing JEDI initiative, we continue to engage talented artists to reimagine Utile’s logo for commemorative observance months throughout the year and are deeply grateful to them for sharing their gifts with us. 

Statement from the artist:

This design was made to acknowledge Native American Heritage Month. Since I currently live in Canada, I will be talking primarily about the Canadian side; however, almost parallel events occurred in both countries, and resources are listed below. The events I will talk about below are especially relevant because there is an ongoing discovery of mass graves of children who attended residential schools in Canada, and to date, the number of graves is estimated to be over 3,200. 

On September 30th, we celebrate National Day of Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day. This day is meant to honour the lost Indigenous children and those who survived the nightmare of Residential Schools. Orange Shirt Day is named so because a woman named Phyllis Webstad had her brand-new orange shirt taken from her when she was forced to attend a residential school. It became a symbol of having culture and freedom forcibly stripped from generations of Indigenous children. These schools were set up by the Canadian government and orchestrated by churches, meant to assimilate Indigenous children into a Euro-Canadian and Christian lifestyle. These schools were known as American Indian Boarding Schools in the US, and they operated similarly. The children were violently separated from their families, their long hair was shaved, and they were forbidden from speaking their languages under the threat of horrifying abuse. My great-grandfather was Métis, one of the three recognized Indigenous groups in Canada (the other two being First Nations and Inuit), and my grandmother separated herself from that identity at a young age to avoid being sent to the residential schools. Due to fear of a period called the “Sixties Scoop” (resource below), my mother and her sister were told not to tell anyone they were Métis out of fear that they would be taken away. This was a period in which Indigenous children were taken from their families and put into the welfare system, echoing the Residential Schools. These events were meant to ensure the systematic destruction of Indigenous cultures and their communities, and the dark shadows of these events stretch to the present day. 

Looking to future healing and supporting survivors of the schools is the main focus of this art piece. Two people stand sorrowfully at the bottom, reminding us not to forget past events lest they occur again. One person climbs the tree and looks towards the sun as the branches stretch up to the sky, recovering and growing from the roots of these terrible experiences. All three people have long hair, representing their relationship with the Earth and showing that they have survived and thrived despite the attempts of the Canadian and US governments to crush their spirits and erase their culture.”

If you would like to learn more:

https://www.orangeshirtday.org/ (Canada)

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residential-schools (Canada)

https://Indigenousfoundations.web.arts.ubc.ca/sixties_scoop/ (Canada)

https://www.theindigenousfoundation.org/articles/us-residential-schools (America)

If you are looking for ways to get involved:

https://www.irsss.ca/ (Canada)

https://boardingschoolhealing.org/ (USA)

If you would like to learn more about my background, Métis, this is a recommended book:

The North-West Is Our Mother: The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation by Jean Teillet

I have both a 2018 and 2022 art project dedicated to these events; all of my research and artwork are available through these links: