The moccasin tops arranged at the Walking With Our Sisters art installation are a stunning sight.
Each one is crafted with colour and detail and is laid out on the library floor, but their beauty reveals a tragic story. The 1,800 vamps, or moccasin tops, represent lives cut short by violence or that vanished without a trace. There are tiny vamps as well, symbolizing Indigenous children who never returned home from residential schools.
The art installation is made up of moccasin vamps that have been created by more than 1,400 people, in response to a call from Métis artist Christi Belcourt to honour and pay respect to the lives and existence of missing and murdered Indigenous women across North America.
“It’s beautiful. It’s so powerful and moving and it brings people to tears,” said Jessie Loyer, a librarian at Mount Royal University who has been working on bringing the art installation to Calgary for the past two years.
The Walking With Our Sisters project has traveled through North America since 2013 and will be at MRU’s Riddell Library until May 13. Debbie Green attended the opening of the installation on Sunday. Her sister, Eleanor Ewenin, disappeared in Calgary in 1982 and is one of the women being remembered.
“It always impacts the families and stays with you forever, especially when it’s unsolved and you’re left with never knowing,” Green said. “Eleanor was really strong and feisty and a fighter and she survived a lot. Our family survived a lot — residential schools and being adopted and all of that. My older sister always said that she (Eleanor) lived and died mostly in fear in this world. Now hopefully she has peace on the other side.”
Walking through the art installation is a heavy experience for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, but they say it also eases years of pain.
“There’s so many that are missing and unsolved murders, it’s always important to honour the women and this is another way to do it. It’s also healing for the families,” Green said.
Organizers hope the display will bring more awareness to the issue. According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous women make up for around five per cent of females in Canada, but they represent about a quarter of missing or murdered women.
“For many there’s no justice for them,” Loyer said. “We hope that one day we won’t have to do this kind of thing.”