SIX NATIONS – The travelling and commemorative art installation Walking With Our Sisters reached the Gathering Place at the edge of Six Nations and opened its doors on Sunday, November 19 for the public to visit.
The entirety of the installation is ceremonial and the journey begins at the doorway. Visitors are asked to remove their shoes and female visitors are given the option to wear a skirt before being smudged with sage. They then enter the space and are given pouches of tobacco to carry whilst walking through to view 1800 moccasin vamps laid gently upon cedar boughs.
The vamps were made by contributors from across Turtle Island and are decorated with raised or flat bead work, feathers, ribbon, quill work and more and were not made into full moccasins to symbolically represent the premature end of a pathway into the future. The centre hosts eagle staffs and baby vamps to represent the children that did not come home from residential school.
And the powerful installation has raised a lot of positive attention from visitors and volunteers.
“This display is a must see. I was completely overwhelmed with many emotions. It is done so respectfully and takes you on a journey. Thank you for sharing this with our community,” wrote Shelley Burnham-Shognosh on Facebook.
“Just wanted to say thanks for posting about and sharing the WWOS event. I’m so grateful that I came out today. I wasn’t sure my anxiety would let me volunteer but the experience today was profoundly wonderful for me. Many teachings and stories and lots of love and support shared by all the women. I wish I could come out again to help but for sure I’ll be back with my daughter when it opens,” wrote Shauna Hunt Doracin on Facebook.
As Walking With Our Sisters Planning Committee member Vanessa Watts explained, there is still much more symbolism tied into the installation.
“Rainee Hess, one of the family members that has been working with us on the planning committee, spoke with Arnold Jacobs [an artist from Six Nations] about what she had envisioned in terms of a turtle and Sky Woman coming down. And so the vamps are designed to be laid in the shape of a turtle which Jacobs designed, and he also designed [the Sky Woman piece] to represent Sky Woman [descending from Sky World] to touch the vamps. The projection screen behind her with geese was done by Shane Powless and it represents Sky World and the birds coming down. The longhouse out here was also designed by Bill Powless,” said Watts.
With the power of the installation itself has come a lot of support as well, as Watts explained that Ganohkwasra has offered a counsellor for visitors and family members that may feel they need it. Watts also made it apparent that the installation isn’t just symbolic as it also puts faces to MMIW for visitors.
“Family members from Six Nations have placed pictures, poems, any items that they choose on the table so that when visitors are exiting they will see the family members who have gone missing or were murdered from Six Nations,” she said.
Watts explained that three years ago the heads of the project made a call for vamps which were then brought into a bundle and taken to different communities as the installation.
“So this travels as ceremony,” she said. “There’s medicines that travel, there’s drums, there’s vamps, and there’s eagle staffs, so it’s considered to be a memorial bundle.”
A sacred fire was also lit on the day of the opening ceremony for the affected families, and designated fire keepers maintain the fire all day and all night. Watts said that the installation invites visitors from all walks of life, not just from the Six Nations area.
“There’s been family members from other communities as well, from B.C., and from other provinces that came to visit this installation in Six Nations,” she said. “I encourage people in the community in Six Nations, New Credit, Brant Country and Brantford to come in and visit and to see all of the incredible work that was put into the vamps. All are welcome.”
This interactive installation has travelled to various communities to commemorate and honour the interrupted lives of daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, nieces, cousins and aunties that make up the national tragedy of North America’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. It’s next stop will be in Sudbury in December, but will remain within Six Nations until November 26.