Trigger warning: this article contains information about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
In mid-September 2021, the ice rink at Parkdale Cromdale Community League will become an art installation to pay respect to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“For us as a community league, it’s a way to bring [this crisis] to a local level rather than a federal level. It really begins in the community…doing actions like this,” says Steven Townsend, former league president, who came up with the initial idea for the project.
The art installation will be constructed out of red fabric with the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls printed on them. “There are four concentric circles of fabric that people can walk through, and in the centre of the circle will be one single red dress that will be hung from above,” says Kevin Wong, league president. The inner circle will be an especially sombre place, a mini chamber for reflection and education.
“Indigenous girls, women…are targeted by colonial violence embedded within institutions, structures, and systems, as well as interpersonal violence,” states the National inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In the report, Dr. Barry Lavallee says, “Indigenous women are not vulnerable, Indigenous women are targeted in secular society for violence.”
A 2020 report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada concluded that 14 per cent of Indigenous women reported physical or sexual maltreatment as children, and Indigenous women were three times more likely to report spousal violence compared to non-Indigenous women. The Assembly of First Nations revealed that Indigenous women make up 16 per cent of female Canadian homicides, and 11 per cent of missing women reported, even though Indigenous people only represent about four per cent of the population.
Not only is the installation a way to commemorate all the Indigenous women and girls who have suffered violence and gone missing, but it also is a tremendous opportunity for education and healing. “The main goal,” says Wong, “is to encourage people to find out more [about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls]. This is supposed to be the first of many [learning opportunities].” And in the spirit of reconciliation, this installation is about providing a space to learn and share, says Wong.
The league has partnered with Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society to bring this event to life. Bent Arrow will set up a teepee with a fire in the ice rink. They will keep the fire continuously burning for the two weeks the installation is open.
Indigenous partners will facilitate story sharing, and there will also be a talking circle where visitors can process the art installation and share their thoughts. The installation will open and close with a pipe ceremony.
Murray Knutson, executive deputy director of Bent Arrow, says, “The big object [of the installation] is raising awareness.” He notes, “Currently, there’s lots of awareness for Indigenous issues because of the burial sites… and if we can focus that attention on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, I think it will be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness. And hopefully raising this awareness will help with changing some of these societal [issues] that lead to the women of our community being harmed.”
The art installation will also feature a soundscape of poems and stories being played as people walk through the installation. Video images will be projected on the fabric to create an immersive experience.
This project will be completed on a volunteer basis. “It’s going to be a community mobilization effort,” says Wong, “and bringing people together and learning more… [the art installation] is doing its job because it’s bringing the issue front and centre.” The event is still in the planning stages, but organizers hope to have it up by Sept. 16.