Cape Breton artist's design makes it easy to spot Indigenous literature at NSCC campuses
More than 1,500 book spines to feature Riki Lee Christmas' original symbol
A Nova Scotia Community College graduate says she is thrilled that her original artwork will be prominently displayed on more than 1,500 Indigenous works of literature across the college's libraries.
Riki Lee Christmas created the turtle symbol with a coloured medicine wheel on its back as part of a class project.
Now, it's being secured to the spine of Mi'kmaw and Indigenous books in an effort to bring more visibility to First Nations artists and authors across all NSCC campuses.
Christmas said she is in disbelief that her work is being turned into a province-wide initiative.
"I was shocked. I never thought I'd be able to create anything like that," said Christmas, who is from Eskasoni First Nation and graduated from NSCC's applied media and communication arts program.
"I never imagined I'd be doing anything in graphic design. I just kind of dove in and just let my creativity and culture collaborate."
Christmas' turtle symbol was approved by Danny Paul, elder for the Marconi Campus in Sydney, and the colourful labels were unveiled in October as part of Mi'kmaq History Month.
The inspiration for the turtle artwork came from both a personal affinity for the animal and the deep cultural connection it represents.
"It's one of my favourite creatures, and it represents so much in our culture. It's in our stories and legends and represents one of the seven sacred teachings — truth," said Christmas.
"I put the medicine wheel on its shell, which also represents so much meaning in our culture."
Christmas added that the four colours represent the four directions — north, south, east and west.
NSCC said it is committed to making all students and faculty feel respected and welcome. To that end, it has created a new human rights, equity and inclusion department that aims to give voices to its diverse school population.
"A lot of the work that we address in there is basically working toward reconciliation and building those relationships and securing that trust," said Denise DiGiosia, NSCC's senior advisor of Mi'kmaw and Indigenous initiatives.
"All kinds of historical barriers have been there that haven't made students feel welcome.... What this speaks to is a commitment from NSCC that it's a way of decolonizing our campus that we know works toward building and fostering those relationships."
The list of titles with Christmas' symbol continues to grow.
The artist said she's honoured her artwork will be used in such an important way for years to come.
"Just being a part of something so big and significant overall is so amazing to me," she said.