Thursday was my birthday. To celebrate, my wife took me to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery to see the exhibit, Walking With Our Sisters. And, while I knew that it was commemorative in honour of murdered and missing First Nations women, I had no idea that the exhibit would affect me so deeply.
Upon entering, visitors are met and introduced to the significance of what they will see, and then ‘smudged’ by an Elder who blesses you and sets you on your way.
Essentially, the exhibit is comprised of hundreds of decorated pairs of the upper-foot portion of moccasins (called “vamps”), laid out in patterns, interspersed with cedar boughs around the largest gallery display room. In the centre of the room the vamps are gathered in a symbolic turtle pattern.
Interesting, too, is that Thunder Bay is just one of 25 scheduled showings for Canada over the next five years, and that at each stop the hosting First Nations collaborate in how the presentation is made. For instance, the turtle pattern in this showing was suggested by local Ojibway Elders.
As one slowly walks with the sisters, and admires the beautiful and variously beaded, and painted decorations contributed by the friends and families of the murdered and missing women — an excruciating sadness will descend upon you. You are no longer remote from the reality. You are a part of it. And that, for me, is what this exhibit achieves so well.
Walking With Our Sisters prompts us to all to ask: “How could this have happened? And why isn’t there a national inquiry into this horror?” And, perhaps more practically important, “How can I offer my voice in support of this important mission?”
Walking With Our Sisters is at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery until Oct. 12. Don’t miss it. Check with the gallery for other activities associated with the exhibit.