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Regina graffiti artist's mural brings Tina Fontaine's story to New Zealand

Emily Gardner sees herself in the story of Tina Fontaine. The graffiti artist was inspired to paint a mural in Auckland, New Zealand, dedicated to the 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation.
Emily Gardner sits with her mural of Tina Fontaine. (Supplied by Emily Gardner)
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Emily Gardner sees herself in the story of Tina Fontaine. The graffiti artist was inspired to paint a mural in Auckland, New Zealand, dedicated to the 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation.

"To me, Tina represents sort of the plight and the struggles of a lot of young women who end up in care and child protection services in Canada, and I want to take a moment and remind people that Tina was a child," Gardner said..

"She was a young woman who needed protection, who needed help and the system failed her. And however we contribute to that system collectively, we fail her, as well,".
Emily Gardner, is a dual citizen of Canada and New Zealand. Currently living in Auckland, she paints under the tag, Adore. (Facebook/Adore)
Gardner, who is from Saskatchewan, wound up in the foster care system. First, in Calgary and then later she was sent to Gemma House, a group home for girls in Regina.
An in-progress shot of Emily Gardner's mural of Tina Fontaine in Auckland, New Zealand. (Emily Gardner)

"My experience is you're treated like a burden. You're treated like you're unwanted. And you can see how a young person who's already having a difficult time in the world could take those things to heart and could really damage them in the long term," said Gardner.

'It could've been me'

Gardner said in reflecting on Tina's story, she sees where things could've gone wrong for her, too.

"Or it could've been one of the girls in Gemma House. Some of those girls didn't make it out okay. At some stage, to some extent, I was her or I knew her." Gardner said.

It was at Gemma House, Gardner saw her way out. She started working harder in school.

She graduated with the third highest GPA in her high school In 2013, then with the highest GPA in economics at the University of Regina.

After a summer in South Korea, she made the move to New Zealand. She enrolled at the University of Auckland and earned a masters in international relations and human rights.

After graduating, and faced with mounting student debt, no money and no jobs in her field, her partner helped her discover graffiti art. Gardner said art helped her forget her problem and she found her passion.
Gardner adds touch-ups to the mural of her grandmother, Joyce. (Facebook, Adore)

She has done a number of murals around Auckland, including one of her grandmother, Joyce Gardner, her hero. She earns commissions for her work.

With her latest project, a large-scale portrait of Tina Fontaine, she hopes people will take the time to find out more about the teenager.

"I talk about it a lot. In Auckland and in the work that I do, at some primary schools and sometimes in mentorships programs with Maori youth, I have spoken about Tina and I have spoken about the changes in the process of decolonization in Canada. I think people are receptive to Tina's story but I don't think they know about her specifically," Gardner said.

She hopes it will bring awareness that Canada still has a long way to go in finding equality and that there are still many other young women following the same path Fontaine did.
Emily Gardner sees herself in the story of Tina Fontaine. The graffiti artist was inspired to paint a mural in Auckland, New Zealand, dedicated to the 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation. 1:29

"There are people that are being lost in these big gaping holes in a social fabric that just can't support them. It happens in New Zealand and it happens so much more in Canada. So I hope that people will take a moment and reflect."

Gardner believes Fontaine deserves justice and to be remembered.

"I want her to be a reminder that every child is worth love, kindness compassion and their lives matter."
Gardner works on one of the murals she was commissioned to do at Bayview Primary School in Auckland. (Facebook/Adore)

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