Walking With Our Sisters art installation coming to Thunder Bay
Elder Wanda Baxter performs opening prayer for the Walking With Our Sisters Community Conversation.
Christi Belcourt’s Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) commemorative art installation for missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada will be in Thunder Bay this September at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.
WWOS is a collaborative art piece that involved 1,372 people who created and donated 1,725 pairs of moccasin tops. Each moccasin top, also known as “vamps,” represents a missing or murdered Indigenous woman. The vamps are intentionally not sewn into moccasins and left incomplete to signify the unfinished lives of those missing or murdered women.
WWOS is scheduled to tour more than 30 locations across North America for the next six years.
From what Sharon Johnson has learned about previous exhibits of WWOS, it requires a lot of commitment and volunteering from people in the community it visits.
Johnson, along with Leanna Marshall, are part of a WWOS Planning Committee in Thunder Bay. The group has held a few meetings prior to a Community Conversation on March 12.
“It’s important to have a committee because it’s gonna be a major event,” Johnson said.
“There needs to be a committee and volunteers because of all of the work that is going to be put into it physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” Johnson explained that the art installation will require a lot of help from community members so that is why the planning committee hosted a community conversation.
She was invited by Jean Marshall and her sister Leanna after the two were asked by Christi Belcourt to help out and prepare for WWOS.
“They thought I should be on it because of the work I do with the memorial walks,” Johnson said. For the last six years, Johnson, whose sister Sandra was murdered in the early 1990s, has been holding Full Moon Memory Walks in Thunder Bay.
Johnson said that the first community conversation welcomed around 30 people.
“It was a good little crowd, but the ones who were there signed their names to volunteer for different things that had to be done,” Johnson said.
Leanna Marshall said it helps to have a planning committee because it is a core group of people who know what is going on and who can take leadership in the community to host WWOS.
“I think WWOS is going to have a big impact on our community,” Marshall said. “The committee is going to need help from the larger community to really help bring the show here. I actually don’t like to call it a show, our Elder said we should call it a “journey” because when you call it a show, it doesn’t respect what its about.”
After listening to Belcourt describe WWOS, Marshall explained that everything about the installation will be done with meaning. The space the holds the vamps is going to have medicines around it and will be very much like a healing lodge.
“When everyone comes into the space, everyone is equal. There’s not going to be any dignitaries or politicians. Everyone’s going to have some sort of response, so that’s what makes this event really special.”
Marshall explained that WWOS takes three 12-hour long days to lay out the vamps.
“It kind of gives you an idea of how big this event is,” Marshall said. “It takes a huge amount of space so we have to prepare for it. That’s why we held a community conversation.”
Though the community conversation was open to everyone, Marshall noticed that the crowd was comprised of female community members only.
“I thought that was interesting,” Marshall said. “We’re all impacted by this issue at some level. It impacts us. I think to have men on board, it completes the circle.”
Johnson encourages men to become involved in WWOS as well.
“We need to encourage men to be involved,” Johnson said. “We need those men to support it as well.”
Marshall said that there will be a need for more volunteers, and hopes to see some more come out as the event date starts closer. She also explained that the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is something that impacts everyone.
“It’s not a women’s issue,” Marshall said. “It’s a community issue. We need to question why this is happening. Why is this okay to keep on happening? I think some people have been saying “no this isn’t okay” for the last few years, and now it is finally coming to a head.”
“I also think it would be great if our men can step up and say we can support them,” Marshall said.
WWOS can be contacted through their Facebook page, which is called Walking With Our Sisters Thunder Bay. Marshall can be emailed at email@example.com.
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