By Nadiah Sakurai
Walking With Our Sisters is a memorial honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States. The memorial is in the form of an art installation, and has travelled all over the country, starting in Edmonton where it began its journey in 2008.
This year, Ottawa is hosting the memorial from Sept. 25 to Oct. 16 in Carleton’s Art Gallery (CUAG), which makes it easy to access for us students.
On Sept. 27, I had the opportunity to be one of the volunteers for WWOS. It was an honouring and interesting experience that opened my eyes to the suffering the Indigenous community faces. The memorial also deeply impacted me.
After moving to Canada in 2014, I heard about the many missing and murdered Aboriginal women in this country. I knew it was a recurring problem, but it felt distant to me as I didn’t know any friends or a family who were impacted directly. This memorial changed that.
Gabby Richichi-Fried, a co-leader of WWOS, gave me more insight into the memorial.
WWOS displays vamps, which are the decorated tops of moccasins. By displaying only the vamps, it signifies the unfinished task of making a moccasin. This is an allegory to the unfinished life that was taken away, and why vamps are chosen for the memorial, Richichi-Fried explained.
Vamps were collected from all parts of Canada. Each one was made carefully, and each had its own stories to share. Most of the vamps were made by the families of the missing and murdered women or their communities.
When the vamps are put on display, it is believed the spirits of the sisters are standing up, bringing them into the space, Richichi-Fried said.
Along with the vamps there were photographs and names of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, and these left a huge impact on me. By seeing a face or learning a name, it made the issue more real and close.
While feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the significance of the vamps, I witnessed other visitors reacting to the memorial as well. People took their time connecting with each vamp, some with teary eyes.
As I saw the tears of the women’s family members, it made me think, “what if it was my sister that had gone missing?” I could only imagine the pain that families and friends of the women feel.
Because of my experience and the importance of the memorial, I believe students should visit it themselves to better understand the issue and empathize with those who are grieving.
“You don’t have to be Indigenous to go through that memorial,” Richichi-Fried said. “It was a memorial, a grieving and a healing space for everyone.”
In order to make a positive change and to end the murder of Aboriginal women, everyone has to play a part, and that includes students.
“The more people who see this and start to understand what the issues are — why so many Indigenous women are going missing and being murdered, and what impact that has to generations of their families — the more likely something would be done about it,” Richichi-Fried said.
One thing students should do is attend events organized by Indigenous communities. By hearing their voices and understanding the issues, it not only changes the way we perceive things, but also helps us raise awareness amongst our friends.
Visiting WWOS allowed me to understand a little bit of the pain the Indigenous community feels and how students can play a role in the healing; that is why more students should participate in events such as this.