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Walking With Our Sisters honours MMIWG in Saskatchewan with final ceremony


The touring installation of over 2,000 moccasin vamps commemorating the lives of Indigenous women and girls is concluding in Batoche on Sunday.

BATOCHE, Sask. — As Christi Belcourt traces a path through a narrow corridor of trees, she doesn’t walk alone.

The stretch of red fabric she follows carries the memories of thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, represented by pairs of moccasin vamps carefully laid down in rows as the trail snakes toward the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.

Belcourt is an organizer of Walking With Our Sisters, an art installation of more than 2,000 vamps, or tops, meant to commemorate and honour the lives of Indigenous women and girls, but also men and boys, Two Spirit and transgender people.

An open call for vamps was put out in 2012 and a year later, they went on tour across Canada, where they’ve taken up residence in museums, art galleries and arenas.

This weekend, they’re outside for the first time at the East Village at the Batoche National Historic Site in order to make their final journey to the river.

The vamps are beaded, painted, embroidered, carved from soapstone, wood burned, felted and embellished with quill work. They’re also all unfinished, purposely not sewn into moccasins to represent a life cut short, and are as much a testament to those lost as they are to the love of the family members they left behind.

“It’s obvious that, with the beadwork, a lot of care and love has gone into it,” Belcourt said. “Every type of material has been used on these vamps that you could even think of — people really used it to express how they were feeling.

There’s a lot of messages of love, there’s a lot of messages from people about the joy of life, but also about the sadness of this issue.”

While originally conceived as an art exhibition, Elders involved with the installation quickly understood that it was really about holding ceremony for the spirits of the women and girls, Belcourt said.

“The whole point of this has only been to honour the lives of the women. It’s not to think about how they died. It’s to just say, their lives are valuable. And that’s it. Just to say that their lives should not have been cut short.”

Angela Rancourt, a member of the River Women Collective, a national group of Indigenous women and Elders helping facilitate the installation, said the Batoche site was a good fit for the final installation because of its great historical significance for Metis people.

It also is an unfortunate testament to the pervasive nature of the trauma endured by Indigenous women — in the 1950s, a Metis woman who had been murdered was found on the riverbed at the site.

“At one point a hundred and some years ago our ancestors were actually hiding in these lands,” Rancourt said. “Now to be able to honour the women on our land and not have to hide anymore has had a big impact on me and our collective as a whole. We’re very proud to be able to do that.”

Belcourt said she’s seen how the installation can inspire understanding and compassion in people and hopes that will continue to take place as it comes to a close.

“Everywhere this installation has gone, it’s touched people’s hearts very deeply and they’ve been really moved and seeing things in a different way,” she said. “I want non-native people to open their hearts and ask themselves, how would they feel if this was their sisters or their brothers, their mothers, their daughters, their sons?”

On Sunday, the some of the vamps will be burned in a sacred fire as part of a private ceremony. The rest will return home or to Belcourt’s house in Ontario until they can be returned.

Rancourt said the decision to have the vamps follow the path came easily.

“Some of our grandmothers and some of our collective came out and kind of walked around and tried to make a decision,” she said. “When they walked down this path, they just knew that this is the path that the women needed to walk. This is the path that we want to honour them on.”

The final installation of Walking with Our Sisters is in place at the East Village at the Batoche National Historic Site from Aug. 15 to 18.

amshort@postmedia.com

 Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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