A long-awaited touring memorial for missing and murdered indigenous women has opened at the Chapel Gallery in North Battleford.
The Walking With Our Sisters art installation runs Jan. 15 to Feb. 7.
The travelling exhibition is a memorial to the lives of those women. The display consists of moccasin tops created by over 1,300 artists, with each pair representing an indigenous woman who is missing or murdered.
Initially it was estimated there were 1,780 pairs of moccasin tops in the exhibition. But officials with the exhibition now say that number is over 2,000.
It was obvious that setting up the display would have been not only a major and painstaking endeavour by the volunteers, but also a deeply moving one.
“The volunteers have become very attached to this exhibit and they understand the meaning of what these vamps represent.” said Eleanore Sunchild, co-lead with Walking With Our Sisters.
The art installation originated from the vision of Métis artist Christi Belcourt as a way to advocate the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.
According to Sunchild, “she put a call out to aboriginal artists to send in some vamps.”
Originally the plan was to include a few hundred in the display, but “she became inundated with people sending in the moccasin tops.”
“She created a larger exhibit than she first anticipated, and it’s grown over the past few years since its opened, because people have been adding moccasin tops to it,” said Sunchild.
The opening of the memorial culminates a year of preparation and events, including several community conversations on the issue. Sunchild said considerable fundraising had to be done to bring the exhibit to North Battleford and to cover the various costs.
Elders were involved in a lead role, said Sunchild, in terms of instructing on how to honour protocol and how to respect the spirits of those who had passed on or those who are still missing.
Media had a chance to view the display at the Chapel Gallery Thursday morning before it officially opened to the public.
A traditional feast was scheduled for the afternoon and then a round dance was scheduled for the Don Ross gymnasium starting at 7 p.m.
Some family members of the victims who were memorialized had a chance to view the display before it opened to the public.
Among them was Steve Morningchild, who is among those personally impacted by the issue. His daughter Calinda Waterhen lost her life to the serial killer John Crawford in 1992.
“Some of the people here, they’re forgotten,” said Morningchild of the memorial.
For him, the display of moccasin vamps brought back bad memories not only of his own loss, but of other grievances as well.
“They are killing our women left and right who are North American Indian woman clan mothers,” said Morningchild. “That’s how I recognize my daughter and all the rest of the Indian women.”
Sunchild acknowledges the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is an important one for people in North Battleford and the area.
“It is a very relevant issue for our community, given the number of indigenous women we have in the Battlefords,” said Sunchild.
Members of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations have issued statements in support of the art exhibit.
“Art exhibits like the moccasin vamp installation help to ensure that our missing and murdered indigenous women and girls will not be forgotten,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. “The FSIN continues to support the families who have lost loved ones and will continue to do so as we search for answers and seek out solutions to this national tragedy.”
“This is a very powerful way to honour and respect our grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters who went missing or are victims of foul play,” said FSIN Vice-chief Heather Bear on behalf of the Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission. “We will continue to support initiatives like the moccasin vamp installation that help our families heal from the pain caused by a loved one’s disappearance or death.”
The display runs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at the Chapel Gallery.
It is free of charge to the public, and visitors are able to access the memorial through door No. 2 at the Don Ross Centre.
In commemoration of the opening of the Walking With Our Sisters exhibition at the Chapel Gallery, a round dance was held Thursday at Don Ross gymnasium in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The round dance began shortly after 7 p.m. and lasted well into the night.