Embroidering circle sparks healing for survivors of violence, MMIWG families

Since the beginning of September, a group of women in Montreal have been using the art of embroidery to share, heal, and empower themselves as survivors of violence.

It’s an initiative called Women Are Sisters. 

The women, who are all anonymous, meet every week at the Ashukan Cultural Space. They participate in a healing circle where they embroider squares to contribute to a quilt that will honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“The core of this project is to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women,” said Nadine St-Louis, executive director of Sacred Fire Productions and manager of Ashukan.

She said the project is about merging art and healing to raise awareness of the impact of violence on families and communities.

“We can create a sense of belonging and get rid of the shame, breaking the silence, breaking the isolation,” said St-Louis, who is a survivor of spousal abuse.

“I stayed silent for years. I didn’t speak to anyone about it. You need to create a safe space to trust again because that’s what gets violated.”

Nadine St-Louis is the executive director of Sacred Fire Productions, which operates the Ashukan Cultural Space in Old Montreal. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Participants don’t need to know how to embroider or bead as there’s support along with traditional teachings and guidance, she said.

Women are Sisters is one of 10 projects in Quebec that received funding through the federal Department of Women and Gender Equality’s $13 million MMIWG commemoration fund. Over 100 projects across Canada have been approved for funding.

The quilt, as well as a coffee table book with the stories behind each square, will be on exhibition in the spring of 2020. Melanie Morrison, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Que., who is facilitating the healing circle, said it will be an important educational tool for the future.

“It hits home more than words,” she said. “If it’s in a paper, you can just flip a page but when they see it right in front of their faces with the artwork, it makes it more real.”

‘It’s not somebody else’s issue’

Morrison has been an advocate of MMIWG since 2006 when her younger sister Tiffany went missing, and was a part of the family advisory circle to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

There is more work to be done to address the violence Indigenous women and girls face, she said, including responding to the 231 calls to justice issued by the national inquiry in June.

Melanie Morrison, who has been an advocate for families of MMIWG since her sister disappeared in 2006, is facilitating the weekly sharing circle. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

“There needs to be more conversation out there, there needs to be more acceptance that this is a reality, it’s not somebody else’s issue,” said Morrison.

“This is happening here in Canada, this is happening here in Quebec. We need to open our eyes, open our hearts, and express that we don’t want this happening any more to our women.”

She said healing circles have been a powerful tool for her own family, and said even as a facilitator, the weekly embroidery circle has made a surprising impact.

“When we’re in the circle and I’m sharing my experience of what happened to my sister, what the journey has been like for our family, and the fact that I’m also a survivor of violence, being able to open that up with just dealing with the trauma of what happened to my sister is a new healing journey for myself.”

The healing circle will continue until December, and a two-day workshop also takes place on Nov. 2-3 in Kahnawake, Que., for those from Morrison’s home community. 

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