Last week, J. and I, along with his sister and mom, who were visiting from Ontario, climbed in the car and went up to Flin Flon.
The “show” was held in the Elk Hall and as soon as we entered the building, and were asked to remove our shoes, we suspected that we were not there to peer in artistic appreciation at moccasin bead work. Or, at least, not only that.
We put on skirts because, as one of the keepers advised another woman ahead of us, “we were entering our grandmother’s house.”
We were smudged and invited to carry a tiny parcel of tobacco.
Then, we entered a pathway that led us clockwise through a display of more than a thousand beaded vamps, the paired leather uppers of moccasins, each set representing a missing and murdered aboriginal woman.
I am not a person of first nations’ ancestry. My only experience with the high rates of missing and murdered aboriginal women comes second hand, as a journalist who once wrote an article about the issue, following Amnesty International’s Stolen Sisters report, in the days when people watched in horror as Robert Pickton’s farm came apart and many, many questions were asked of the police.
That is my background, and I took that with me into this space, where the sacred energy and resonant power of memorial hit me, as a human being, hard.
I felt privileged to be allowed entry.
There was great beauty and tremendous sadness in the experience of quietly walking through these hundreds of unfinished moccasin tops, each pair hand-stitched to honour women who have vanished or had their lives so violently snuffed out.
Some of the beadwork was breathtaking but it felt strange to admire it because, as Metis artist Christi Belcourt says in the video posted below, “[this is] not an exhibit, it’s a memorial. It’s a commemoration and it’s ceremony.”
In the room, walking that red carpet, listening to traditional grieving songs and honour songs, I did not feel like a curious viewer, like a visitor to an art gallery, but rather, like a witness, like a participant.
The objects were not there to boast of their beauty as finished slippers but to be incomplete, acting as symbols of each woman and girls’ extinguished life.
Despite the federal government’s refusal to hold a national inquest into the high numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women, this powerful show will continue to travel, inviting people to experience a profound remembering of those women who did not have to be lost – and to acknowledge an issue that must be felt, with all its tragedy and pain, and addressed.