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West Vancouver student wins provincial art competition with moving Indigenous artwork

The 15-year-old Rockridge high school student hopes her art will help raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
'A forlorn Haida mother remembers her daughter' by Rockridge Secondary School student Keenawaii Schubert-Johnson won a FORED BC Society 2023 prize. | FORED BC Society

A West Vancouver student has taken home a prize for an annual Indigenous focused artwork contest, for a piece inspired by  missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW).

Entitled ‘A forlorn Haida mother remembers her daughter’, the artwork, which won the annual FORED BC Society contest, represents the anguish and devastation felt by mothers of the countless missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, said its artist, 15-year-old Rockridge Secondary School student Keenawaii Schubert-Johnson.

“It’s definitely a sad painting … it’s supposed to be something that brings up emotion,” she said.

“Indigenous people are always coming up missing, and it’s an issue that gets really overlooked. I feel like people come up missing and then they’re never found and no one really talks about it, unless you’re related to them or in the same clan, or you’re an Indigenous person yourself.”

The colourful piece depicts a short haired woman bearing a sorrowful expression. The woman’s Indigenous heritage is expressed through the traditional Haida hat, a piece of regalia crafted from inner cedar bark that is predominantly made by women.

Schubert-Johnson, a member of the Haida Nation herself, said the idea just “came to her”, and that she never expected to win, she simply felt it was important to “be an advocate” for the issue, while simultaneously raising awareness of Indigenous culture and traditions.

The contest, launched in 2010, sees winners selected on the basis of their work addressing the theme of Indigenous traditional knowledge and medicine and the student’s artistic merit, said Victor Godin, educational director at FORED BC.

Godin said the contest was brought about as part of a larger initiative to “celebrate and preserve Indigenous traditional knowledge,” and to help build more relationships between Indigenous youth and elders, foster a stay-in-school ethic, and ultimately increase Indigenous school completion rates.

“Parents, teachers and Indigenous leaders have told us how much they appreciate this annual event that builds valuable, generational connections with elders who pass down the learning,” he said.

Schubert-Johnson, who joined other student winners from Penticton, Nelson and Kelowna, said she hopes the win will be the first milestone achieved in a long and fruitful creative career.

The teenager, who followed in her mother's artistic footsteps when she first started painting around the age of five, hopes for a future working in fashion design.

For the time being, however, Schubert-Johnson is focusing on the present: namely, how she is going to spend her $150 winnings.

“My parents’ birthdays are coming up, so this might be going towards a present for them,” she said.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.