Walking With Our Sisters project reaches Yellowknife

Walking With Our Sisters project reaches Yellowknife
Men and women from the Fort Smith correctional facility create their own vamps to donate to the Walking With Our Sisters Yellowknife installation.Photo: Courtesy of Priscilla Lepine.

Hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women have had their memories honoured by the Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) memorial installation and as of Dec. 18, the transient collection reached Yellowknife for a month-long exhibit.

The collection of over 1,800 vamps or uppers has been intricately decorated and donated and all of them will be on display at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre from Jan. 9 to 26.

While stunning to see, the project is about more than just viewing a representation of the sheer volume of indigenous victims in Canada; it is also a conversation starter to address what has been an intense and ongoing national concern.

In tandem with WWOS, volunteers from Yellowknife and the surrounding area have organized a teach-in series called Uncomfortable Truths: New Relationships, which provided opportunities for community members to discuss the topic.

“We have so many women in particular who have been working on this issue for a long time and who have really clear thoughts about what’s happening,” said Lois Little, local organizer behind the series. “It just seemed right that we would want to engage those women in a public discussion and basically a learning opportunity for people who may not be familiar with this issue.”

The first teach-in was held in N’Dilo on Dec. 5. It was emceed by Yellowknives Dene First Nation councillor Cece Beaulieu, with speakers Nola Nallugiak, Lila Erasmus, Perdis Moffat and Valerie Conrad.

“We’ve asked each of the speakers to confront the hard legacies and the results of the relationships that have existed here in the North and throughout the country,” Little said.

Each speaker was asked to reflect on the following: Why are indigenous women and girls still disappearing and murdered? Why isn’t the public outraged? How can we keep other women and girls safe?

“The one in N’Dilo was very powerful, you could have heard a pin drop in the room when some of these women were speaking,” Little said. “It was really amazing.”

The next teach-ins will be held Jan. 3 and Jan. 26.

The WWOS volunteer coordinator, Yvonne Doolittle, hopes visitors to the installation walk away from the experience not only enlightened about the issue, but about the ways they can help eliminate the problem in Canada.

“The installation is a huge learning opportunity for people,” she said. “For a lot of people, I think they’re just gaining such an incredible awareness. For some people it’s propelling them further into learning more about their own situations and their own experiences around them.”

Priscilla Lepine, the Aboriginal culture coordinator for the Fort Smith corrections facility, agreed with Doolittle. When she heard the exhibit was arriving and taking donations, she immediately knew she wanted to get her clients involved.

“I thought I’d take it as an opportunity to sit with the inmates, to do the physical activities and also have the opportunity to work with them on understanding what is going on with Aboriginal women in this country.”

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