Canadian Art - - Reviews -

In 2012, Michif artist Christi Bel­court put out a call for peo­ple to cre­ate moc­casin tops, also known as vamps. She never an­tic­i­pated that more than 2,000 vamps would be cre­ated by peo­ple of all ages across Tur­tle Is­land. “Walk­ing With Our Sis­ters” will travel to more than 25 places— ev­ery­where from Kah­nawake Ter­ri­tory to Toronto—and is booked un­til 2019, with a clos­ing cer­e­mony in Ba­toche, Saskatchewan. The project honours thou­sands of miss­ing and mur­dered In­dige­nous women, girls, Two-spirit peo­ple and their fam­i­lies. More than 300 pairs of vamps rep­re­sent the chil­dren who didn’t re­turn home from res­i­den­tial schools.

At MSVU Art Gallery in K’jipuk­tuk (Halifax), I was in­vited to wear a long skirt (though it wasn’t re­quired, in hon­our of Two-spirit peo­ple who may not choose to wear a skirt), and asked to take off my boots. An Elder smudged me, cleans­ing my spirit and heart. An­other keeper guided me to take as much time as needed, and let me know that there were sup­ports and blan­kets. Ev­ery it­er­a­tion of “Walk­ing With Our Sis­ters” is main­tained and cared for through daily cer­e­monies by com­mu­nity mem­bers and El­ders to pro­tect its sa­cred­ness. This makes ev­ery ex­hi­bi­tion dif­fer­ent in ev­ery city. In K’jipuk­tuk, I was of­fered a to­bacco prayer tie from a cedar box cre­ated by Cree/métis artist Marnie Smith and peo­ple in Haida Gwaii, and slowly walked clock­wise, over­whelmed by the mass amount of vamps, cedar and sa­cred items placed in cer­e­mony. “Walk­ing With Our Sis­ters” is an emo­tional journey, ac­knowl­edg­ing hun­dreds of years of colo­nial abuse of In­dige­nous peo­ple. Since I am a mixed Mi’kmaq woman, ev­ery step I took among the path of vamps rep­re­sented the un­fin­ished lives of my sis­ters, cousins, aun­ties, moth­ers, grand­moth­ers and great-great­grand­moth­ers. Through in­tri­cate bead­work, the vamps fea­ture de­tailed images of feath­ers, moon cy­cles, ea­gle faces, baby foot­prints, plants, rivers, sun­sets and a kalei­doscope of colours rep­re­sent­ing stolen lives. Teresa Bur­rows’s vamps—of two women’s eyes, with yel­low emer­gency tape read­ing “Po­lice Line Do Not Cross”—is pro­foundly po­lit­i­cal, while an­other pair of vamps by Bur­rows, em­bla­zoned with the words “Hello My Name Is: Who Cares,” con­fronts so­ci­ety’s dis­re­gard for an on­go­ing geno­cide. Skawen­nati’s vamps of a brown-skinned an­gel and mermaid, each with long, black hair, are part mythol­ogy, all spirit. Ar­lene Pid­ding­ton’s vamps rep­re­sent gen­er­a­tions of women: a grand­mother with an um­brella, hold­ing her daugh­ter’s hand, who has a baby strapped to her back, and a lit­tle girl tug­ging on her buck­skin dress, all wear­ing muk­luks.

“Walk­ing With Our Sis­ters” is a cer­e­mo­nial walk of heal­ing, grief and aware­ness. Of­fer­ing prayers and to­bacco, I could hear gen­er­a­tions of an­ces­tors weep­ing with ev­ery hon­our song. Art is essen­tial medicine. —SHAN­NON WEBB-CAMP­BELL

In­stal­la­tion view of “Walk­ing With Our Sis­ters” at MSVU Art Gallery, 2017 PHOTO KATIE NAKASKA

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