New MMIWG art project focuses on untold stories of national inquiry

New MMIWG art project focuses on untold stories of national inquiry

Margaret Bird clings to the last words of her mother, Happy Charles, before she goes missing.

Those words – “I’ll try every day” – sent the 24-year-old from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in northern Saskatchewan on a quest to find a way to honor her mother. She was last seen alive at the age of 42 on April 3, 2017, approximately 240 kilometers south of her home in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Her story is just one of thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

A national inquiry, launched in 2015 by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, concluded in 2019 that the disappearances and murders amounted to racial genocide and issued 231 recommendations.

Although the investigation heard from 2,380 family members, survivors of violence and experts, many of those who have lost loved ones say they did not have the opportunity to share their stories during the investigation process.

Now a new project – backed by a $ 13 million commemoration fund established by Ottawa after the investigation ended – attempts to shed light on these untold stories through art.

Margaret Bird (right) sings with her sisters in front of a missing persons sign for her mother, Happy Charles. (Margaret Bird / Supplied)

Pima’tisowin e ‘mimtotaman, an indigenous initiative meaning We Dance For Life, launched an interactive educational website today to honor the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through what he calls Healing Through Art and a national awareness campaign.

Work of art to visit across the country

The organizers connect approximately 180 family members from Ontario, Quebec and Western Canada with artists who will work collaboratively with families to create commemorative works of art.

Bird, who did not have a chance to personally testify at the inquest, said the project gives her a chance to translate her mother’s last words into action.

“This initiative is important to me because my mother was an artist,” said Bird. “It represents his take on how to overcome difficulties with kindness and forgiveness.

A woman is kissed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Gatineau, Que., On June 3, 2019, during ceremonies marking the release of her final report by the national inquiry. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press)

Assuming COVID-19 restrictions allow it, organizers plan to bring families together for gatherings this summer to work on their art and participate in ceremonies. The work will then be visited across the country.

If public health measures do not allow in-person meetings, organizers say they will try to organize smaller or virtual gatherings.

“It makes them feel like they’re not alone,” said Sarah Cleary, a Quebec artist from the Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation who will be working with families.

“We want to make them feel that we are praying for them. We are there for them. It is really about opening our hearts.”

Still no timeline on Ottawa’s response to national survey

We Dance For Life received $ 572,265 from the federal government for the campaign. It is one of more than 100 projects created through the federal government’s Memorial Fund for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“They have a lasting legacy – whether it is a work of art that we will walk for the rest of our lives, a new group putting in place new practices, a new way of coming together, a new way of seeing things and to be together, ”said Joanna Baker, Executive Director of Women’s Programs at Women and Gender Equality Canada, who heads the fund.

Women and Gender Equality Canada is developing a national action plan to address gender-based violence that will include Indigenous-led solutions, said press secretary Marie-Pier Baril. It is also working with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to complete a national action plan to respond to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Watch: Minister of Indigenous Services Says MMIWG’s National Action Plan Can Be Ready in ‘Relatively Short Time’

Marc Miller spoke to Oliva Stefanovich of the CBC during a regular pandemic briefing 1:45

It is not known when these plans will be ready.

At a press conference in Ottawa today, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller did not say when the government’s response to the national inquiry would be released.

“I’m confident we can get something out in a relatively short time frame, but I can’t commit to a timeline,” Miller said.

Connecting Families During Isolation

Katelyn Nani Bell, an Ontario multidisciplinary artist from the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, said We Dance For Life connects families at a time when many are feeling isolated due to the pandemic.

“It brings that feeling of visiting and connecting,” Bell said.

“It is high time that these women and girls were heard, as well as families, to have this healing, if they have not yet had it.”

Bird said she missed playing with her three sisters in their drum group, New Dawn. She said We Dance For Life gave it new meaning.

“It gives me a sense of hope and a greater connection.”

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