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Walking With Our Sisters exhibition arrives in North Battleford

The date of an art installation honouring the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada and the United States to be exhibited in North Battleford is drawing near.
At the arrival of the Walking With Our Sisters exhibition from Akwesasne, it's previous location of display, a group was on hand at the Chapel Gallery to meet the driver and visiting elders. Left to right are Carolyn Kiskotagan, Tiny Spyglass and her granddaughter, Lori Nicotine, Leah Gaven (North Battleford galleries director), Harvey Arquette (Akwesasne driver), Theresa Cook (Akwesasne Elder), Patty Stacey (Akwesasne Elder), Elder Gladys Wapass-Greyeyes, Michelle Sanderson, Raven Bugler, Marlene Bugler, Jessica Keesko and Mrs. Spyglass. Photo by Jayne Foster

The date of an art installation honouring the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada and the United States to be exhibited in North Battleford is drawing near. The Walking With Our Sisters memorial exhibition has arrived at the Chapel Gallery and is being cared for by ceremony until it is installed in time for its Jan. 15 to Feb. 7 showing.

A candle vigil will take place Friday beginning at 4:30 p.m. Participants are to meet at the Allen Sapp Gallery, walk downtown and around Central Park and return. The project requests that everyone is equal, and participants are asked to check their headdresses at the door. Mayor  Ian Hamilton has agreed to join the vigil.

The community has been preparing for the arrival of Walking With Our Sisters for most of the year. Friday evening, a truck driven by Harvey Arquette, the driver for Akwesasne - Walking With Our Sisters, arrived after a journey from the Mohawk Territory in Ontario near Quebec where it was last exhibited. At Akwesasne, it was visited by the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

A group gathered at the Chapel Gallery Friday at 5:30 p.m. to formally welcome Arquette and receive the exhibition. The City of North Battleford's galleries director, Leah Garven, had been to Saskatoon to pick up Akwesasne Elders Patty Stacey and Teresa Cook from the airport so they could take part in the arrival ceremony. Garven also thanks Reg Bugler and Alvin Baptiste for their assistance and the young men who sang in the exhibition bundle with an honour song.

A feast to welcome  Akwesasnewas - Walking With Our Sisters was held Saturday.

Garven says, "The memorial exhibition is very special and will be cared for daily, through ceremony, while we wait to host our exhibition in January 2016."

She adds, "Experience from other venues and communities are that the exhibition is so powerful, and beautifully moving, that it can be exhausting and, as such, the memorial doesn't exhibit in one location for more than three weeks."

With more than 140 volunteers overall, key to the preparation of hosting Walking With Our Sisters has been ensuring the appropriate protocol is in place to care for what is essentially a sacred, living collection of items.

Because it's a living exhibition, it needs to be cared for daily, says Garven. While it could have been kept in someone's home while waiting for the exhibit date, Garven says, the Elders involved in the North Battleford exhibit decided it should be kept at the Chapel Gallery so all the ceremonial people could assist.

Since early in the year, arrangements have been underway and activities planned  in preparation for Walking With Our Sisters. This week, the sixth of a series of community conversations was held at the Allen Sapp Gallery. Soup and bannock was shared and those attending were asked to bring a non-perishable food item to be auctioned off in a hamper.

Fundraising to help offset the cost of bringing Walking With Our Sisters to North Battleford has been ongoing and varied. The committee has undertaken events such as steak suppers and bake sales and has arranged the sale of poinsettias, which are being delivered this weekend. Mother Earth Tea is being sold at the Allen Sapp Gallery, which is open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. The tea, priced at $20 per bag, is a berry blend custom created by aboriginal-owned Mother Earth Essentials for Walking With Our Sisters. An online auction was also organized.

Walking With Our Sisters is a massive commemorative art installation made up of more than 1,763 pairs of moccasin vamps (tops) plus 108 pairs of children’s vamps. The large collaborative art piece is being made available to the public through selected galleries and locations and has been on tour since 2013.

The work exists as a floor installation made up of beaded vamps arranged in a winding path formation on fabric and includes cedar boughs. Viewers remove their shoes to walk on a path of cloth alongside the vamps.

To create the installation, a general call was put out to all “caring souls” who wanted to contribute a pair of moccasin tops. Women, men and children, both native and non-native, gathered in living rooms, universities, community halls and penitentiaries across North America to bead, sew, quill, weave, paint, embroider and create mixed media pairs of moccasin tops out of the love, care and concern they have for missing or murdered women and their families, some of them their own.

Each pair of vamps represents one missing or murdered indigenous woman. The unfinished moccasins represent the unfinished lives of the women whose lives were cut short. The children’s vamps are dedicated to children who never returned home from residential schools. Together the installation represents all these women, paying respect to their lives.

In addition to the moccasin tops, 60 songs were submitted for the audio portion of the exhibit. Those songs are heard while audiences experience the exhibit.

North Battleford is the 15th community to be visited by Walking With Our Sisters. A total of 25 locations have been booked, and more bookings continue to be made into 2019.

After North Battleford, it moves to Brandon, Man., then on to Mount Pleasant, Mich. in the United States.

Walking With Our Sisters is an entirely crowd-sourced project. From the artwork, to the fundraising, even to the way the exhibit tour is being booked, it is all being fueled by thousands of people who have chosen to become involved.

More than 1,180 native women and girls in Canada have been reported missing or have been murdered in the last 30 years.