Chapter 10: “I am here for justice, and I am here for change. “ Commemoration and Calling Forth
The National Inquiry is based on the foundation that women and girls are sacred. Early in 2019 the federal government launched a commemoration fund to honor the lives and legacies of the MMIWG and to increase awareness.
Witnesses went further, calling for activities to support concrete action and to make changes for future generations. Commemoration includes ensuring that our loves ones will never be forgotten. They came into our lives for a reason, to teach us.
The Legacy Archive is based on the idea that art is a powerful tool for commemoration and calling forth. It can send a message of hope, resilience or reconciliation. Art is also an important tool for healing and self-expression. The Legacy Archive houses over 340 artistic expression created by over 800 participants.
It is also recognized that archives are laden with colonial history. They convey values and have the power to privilege and marginalize. One way to overcome those challenges is to implement the United Nations principles of self-determination, participation in decision-making, informed consent, resetting relationships, and cultural rights.
At the hearings, witnesses put artistic expressions into a red willow basket which represents continued connection to land, language and culture. It was a visible reminder of women’s important role in building, strengthening, and repairing relationships.
Examples of commemoration art include a dream catcher ornament, a stained glass feather, a heart-shaped swaddle and baby booties to represent the loss of infants, a painting portraying “Motherly Love,” an intricate wooden star blanket, and a watercolor and poem of “Sister Drumming in Faded Red.” Musical expressions of songs and videos were also received.
Other expressions called attention to healing. Examples included a heart puzzle collage created by family members of MMIWG at a wellness retreat, a glass vase with etchings, a smudge, a sacred antler mounted on a red base, a bear wall mural, and a painting in two parts entitled “Walk with Us” and “Bella Spirit.” Another story on CD about the winds of history was oriented toward youth, to help them combine traditional spiritual expressions with contemporary musical expression.
Many expressions sought to promote justice. One example is Jamie Black who created the REDress Project, a public art installation that aims to raise awareness through the hanging of red dresses. Other artists created red-dress paintings, red-dress pins, Red Dress Brooches, and a collection of poems named the “Red Dress Diaries.”
Other pieces helped create awareness and empathy. These include a bookmark, star blanket, and quilts. One quilt was created by social work students from Edmonton to honor the women lost in Alberta and to let families know they are not fighting alone.
The National Inquiry also engaged in a youth engagement project, Their Voices Will Guide Us, which asserts the importance of collective responsibility through education to effect real change. It invites students of all ages to understand the crisis of violence and to generate transformational social change.
The National Inquiry also created a new project intended to build awareness and promote education about the issues surrounding violence and the targeting of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The ReClaim Project combines the aspect of “remembering” with the concept of “calling forth” by helping connect them to the land, the sacred and traditional teachings, and to one another.
In conclusion, the National Inquiry hopes the Legacy Archives, strategies, projects, and all of the actions these initiatives inspire will have legacies of their own and inspire more acts of commemoration, awareness, courage, healing, and justice.
Personal Note: My expressions of the last 20+ years, while seemingly “commemorative,” have intended to be “calling forth.” My advocacy in the last few years of my daughter’s life attempted to call forth a more helpful response from the mental health, addiction, and legal services that surrounded her.
After Cara’s untimely death, I challenged the Edmonton Police Service on their lack of response while she was missing. My public addresses turned to both memorial events and STOP: Sex Trade Offender Program. My intention was to help educate men on the possible consequences of their buying sex.
Public speaking and letter writing are transient forms of art. In more recent years, I became involved with the ReDress Photography Project in Edmonton and later began the task of compiling decades of reflections into a more structured manuscript. The result is the four-part Seasons of Life as posted on this website.
Designing and launching MissingCara.ca was another challenge and I am grateful to all who collaborated. I responded to the Inquiry’s call for artistic expressions with a formal invitation to access the website, although of course, the invitation is open to the world. I am proud to have made a contribution to the MMIWG final report and am reassured that the Inquiry heard many echoes from across Canada.