THUNDER BAY -- A portion of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery has become a sacred space.
Walking with our Sisters, an art exhibit commemorating missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, opened at the art gallery Friday.
The travelling exhibit features more than 1,700 vamps, the tops of moccasins, that have been decorated by people from all across the country. Each vamp represents a missing or murdered woman.
Local co-lead organizer for the exhibit Leanna Sigsworth said the exhibit also honours women from the U.S. and even Australia.
Over the last four days, the local committee created a sacred space in one of the galleries.
“It’s an opportunity for people to come and to grieve, to honour and to acknowledge,” said Sigsworth, adding it’s also about creating awareness around why there are so many acts of violence directed towards Aboriginal women.
“First and foremost this is a space where people can come together as a community, as a family, as individuals where we can have a space to just be and honour those lives that have been taken too soon,” said Sigsworth.
In each community Walking with our Sisters goes to, the layout is guided by that city’s elders.
In Thunder Bay, in Ojibway and Fort William First Nation territory, Sigsworth said it was important to the elders to have a turtle design in the centre.
The turtle represents North America, known as Turtle Island, and is also a symbol of healing and life.
In the centre of the turtle are baby vamps that represent the children that went missing while attending residential schools and that centerpiece has two eagle staffs coming out of the turtle shell.
“It’s a very powerful symbol, and it’s very significant to us,” said Sigsworth.
The vamps are laid out on a grey carpet in the gallery and there is an empty portion of the carpet in the gallery that Sigsworth said was deliberately left empty.
“Families that have had a murdered or missing woman in our territory, in our community or in Northern Ontario are welcome to come down with a pair of vamps they would like to give to acknowledge their family member,” she said, adding those vamps would go through a ceremony before placed on the mat.
Thunder Bay Art Gallery director Sharon Godwin said the gallery is honoured to host Walking with our sisters.
“It’s, for our gallery, one of the very most important projects we’ve ever done. Lots of great artists have been shown here and lots of things have happened by Walking with our Sisters is very, very important to our space and their community,” she said.
The exhibit is free to the public and it was local fundraising efforts that brought the exhibit to Thunder Bay.
Walking with our Sisters is up at the Art Gallery until Oct. 12 and Godwin encourages people to come early to see it.
“This type of exhibit people will want to see more than once,” she said.
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