Throughout the fall, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in Montreal gathered every week to share, heal, and empower themselves as survivors of violence.
Their stories and experiences are now stitched into a memory quilt that honours the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
It’s called Women Are Sisters.
“The women found solidarity and strength by being able to share in a secure place where they don’t have to worry about being judged or backlash,” said Melanie Morrison, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Que., who facilitated the healing circle.
“To see what was produced from those meetings being put together in that quilt is so strong,”
The participants, who are all anonymous, were taught how to embroider and bead, each making a square to represent their own experiences or to reflect on the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada.
Mohawk elder Kawenno:ta’s Sedalia Fazio was a part of the workshops, to ensure the integrity of community and cultural-based practices.
Morrison said her square represents her sister Tiffany’s life ending too soon in 2006. She’s been an advocate for MMIWG ever since, and was a part of the family advisory circle to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“She couldn’t take flight and live her life because she was only 24,” said Morrison.
“The bloody feathers falling down are her family members that were left behind because we were left to fight for her justice and the pain it has caused us. It put a hole in everyone in her family.”
The final quilt, which was assembled by Montreal quiltmaker Karen Desparois, as well as a coffee table book with stories behind each square, was unveiled this week at Ashukan Cultural Space.
“It was a very moving piece to work on. Each piece has such an intense story. I felt really challenged to do something that would honour this work,” said Desparois.
“I’m proud to be a part of it and hope this helps to spread the word.”
Women Are Sisters was initiated by Sacred Fire Productions, a non-profit Indigenous arts organization in Montreal.
Nadine St-Louis, executive director of Sacred Fire Productions and manager of Ashukan, said it was about merging art and healing to raise awareness of the impact of violence on families and communities.
“We wanted to do a project that brought all women from all nations, from all faiths together to put an end to violence, the silence, to all those voices that never feel safe enough to be heard,” said St-Louis.
“We chose to do it through Indigenous teachings through the knowledge that Sedalia carries, and to use the words of Melanie to understand the impact of missing and murdered women and girls.”
It was 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 were approved for funding last year.
“When you’re in a group of people who have those same experiences, it’s so empowering and that’s where I found my strength to speak up on the injustice that is done to our women,” said Morrison.
“These kinds of projects are very important. Having that space where women can feel space to tell their stories without worry if it going outside that place and being used against them, it’s something that needs to happen more.”