THUNDER BAY, ON --- September 22, 2014 --- Walking with Our Sisters (WWOS), a sacred art bundle comprised of over 1800 moccasin vamps (tops) made by individuals across North America in honor of murdered and missing Indigenous women, has arrived in the community of Thunder Bay and will be available to the public September 19 to October 12, 2014 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.
“A ceremony was held today to mark the opening of the vamps to the people,” said Wanda Baxter, a local Elder who has provides ongoing support to local planners. “The sacred fire was lit earlier this week as we began our preparations. We are entering into a really powerful and sacred space when visiting with the vamps at the Gallery and we have local Elders and helpers to assist visitors through their walk here.”
Local lead organizer Leanna Sigsworth further commented on the significance of the vamps to the community.
“These vamps mark the lives of beautiful women who deserve to be remembered with the utmost respect. This is our opportunity to honor our sisters who have gone missing or have had their lives taken through horrible acts of violence. This serves as an important reminder of our collective responsibility to recognize that this violence has and continues to take place… and our responsibility to support the families in their grief and healing.”
Bella Patayash holding calender
Since 2013, a local group of community members have been working with local Elders, community organizations and members of the national WWOS collective to determine how to bring WWOS to Thunder Bay in a way that respects local Anishinabeg protocols and engages as many people as possible in addressing the ongoing violence Indigenous women experience every day. Community conversations, “bead-ins”, ceremonial teachings, film screenings, and self-defense classes are just some of the activities that have taken place over several months. The local organizing group has received ongoing support and guidance from a national WWOS collective lead by WWOS founder, Métis artist, Christi Belcourt.
“The main vision or goal of this project has always been about community coming together to honor the lives of Indigenous women who have been murdered or are still missing, “ said Belcourt who was also in Thunder Bay this week to help prepare and open WWOS. “I continue to be overwhelmed by the commitment and courage of people who have come together to support this vision. I have seen a lot of work happening in communities across Canada that speaks to the strengthening of relationships among community members, which is an important part of ceremony.”
“We are honored to house the vamps for the time that the bundle will be in Thunder Bay,” said Thunder Bay Art Gallery Executive Director, Sharon Godwin. “We feel fortunate to be part of such a significant cultural and ceremonial process that is open to our community.”
From September 19 to October 12, 2014, WWOS will be open to the public at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Please visit www.theag.ca for gallery hours.
The art installation is made up of more than 1,780 pairs of moccasin tops that have been created by 1,372 caring and concerned people to honour and pay respect to the lives and existence of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across North America. Among the collection are vamps that were submitted from Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario as well the northwestern United States.
Each pair of moccasin tops represents an Indigenous woman or girl who is missing or murdered. They are not forgotten. They are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunties, cousins, grandmothers, wives, partners, and friends. They have been cared for and they are loved. But they have been taken from us too soon.
Additionally, 108 pairs of children’s vamps were added in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada this past May, 2014, to honour and recognize the loss of children who attended residential school who died or were killed while there and never made it back home.
According to the most recent data from the RCMP, more than 1,181 indigenous women or girls have gone missing or have been murdered in the last 30 years. Indigenous women make up 4 per cent of all women in Canada, but represent approximately 25 per cent of all murdered or missing women in Canada today. The numbers of Indigenous women going missing and becoming murdered continue to grow and it’s a sad fact that the RCMP numbers today are already outdated.
The exhibit is currently scheduled to tour to over 31 locations in the next six years across North America.
This project is supported by thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and women across North America who care deeply about this issue. WWOS does not accept government funding for this project, and no one gets paid for doing any of this work.
In Thunder Bay, a number of events (expanded programming) are being held in the community that address the issue of violence against women and girls in a number of different ways including through teach-ins, bead-ins, meetings with local crisis responders, community action groups, visiting schools, detention centres, and community members in general. Some of the topics discussed include gender-based violence, police violence, the roles of indigenous women, community safety and community justice.