When her phone buzzed with the sound of an incoming text message late on Thursday evening, local artist Kayla Phillips could never have guessed the photo that was attached. A friend had sent Phillips, an Indigenous artist from the Nooaitch band, a photo of the a pair of local minor hockey players on the ice at the Vancouver Canucks game, outfitted in the special edition Merritt Centennials Indigenous jersey she designed months earlier. 

“She was just as surprised as I was, we were so excited, and just so happy, it was such a big surprise,” Phillips told the Herald.

“I didn’t know that my design was going to make it onto the ice, so it was a pretty big moment for me.”

The jersey designed by Phillips had previously been used on-ice by the Cents at their Indigenous night, and were recently auctioned off as part of a fundraiser. Now, the design has been shown on TV screens across the country, featured as part of the Canucks’ First Nation Celebration night. 

The Cents Indigenous jerseys appeared on screen during the Canucks pregame ceremony, which honoured Gino Odjick, an iconic enforcer of Algonquin heritage that played for the team for his entire 12 season NHL career. Phillips said she felt an overwhelming sense of pride when she heard her design was featured. 

“I was happy, and proud, and I honestly just wanted to scream,” said Phillips with a laugh.

“It’s just so big for me, being Indigenous. I think that we’re coming to a time that we’re starting to get noticed. It’s not just me, it’s all sorts of other Indigenous people. I’m just so proud, and to be part of that is just amazing.” 

Phillips added that her upbringing at nearby Nooaitch reserve, including summers spent in Anahim with her mother, who hailed from the T?ilhqot’in Nation, greatly influenced who she has become as a person. She added that her community and her culture have inspired her greatly. 

“I’ve seen and been a part of quite a bit of culture, so it has definitely shaped who I am, and the way that I present that my art to the world,” noted Phillips.

Along with her work with the Merritt Centennials, Phillips has also recently completed art and design projects with the Circles of Sisters+ conference, the T?ilhqot’in National Government, and others.