(Courtesy Sacred Fire Productions)
Healing comes in many forms, and community member Melanie Morrison has found a way to help on her own healing journey. Her sister Tiffany disappeared in 2006 and her remains were found four years later. The file is still open.
Morrison is currently involved in a project created by Sacred Fire Productions called “Women are Sisters,” which will be holding a two-day workshop in Kahnawake in November.
The goal of the 14-week project is to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and is based out of the Ashukan Cultural Space in Montreal.
Its purpose is to create solidarity among women affected by violence through embroidery over a series of weekly sessions, which began in early September.
Each participant creates an embroidered pattern on an 8” by 8” square piece of fabric, which will be stitched together by master quilt maker Karen Desparois.
The quilt will be 4’ by 8’ when completed and called the “Memory Quilt.” The women who participate are invited to share their stories during the sessions, which includes a talking sharing circle.
“To have it here in the community and the opportunity to have that sharing circle, the art factor, and the embroidery, helps to express some of that trauma that they’ve felt from that situation. It will be really healing for the community,” said Morrison.
She is also an advocate for MMIWG and participated in the national inquiry, which wrapped up this past June. While the inquiry might be over, “the conversation needs to continue,” said Morrison.
She added, “the stigma that you don’t talk about, it needs to be broken.”
The idea for Women are Sisters came from Nadine St-Louis who is the executive director of Sacred Fire Productions.
“Melanie has been an inspiration to me and for many Indigenous women. I think not just on a Quebec front, but on a national front. She’s an advocate, she’s an ambassador for educating the population about MMIWG, and how you heal as a family when that happens to you,” said St-Louis.
She thought of bringing women together by stitching embroidery and sharing their stories. St-Louis said the fact that Morrison is facilitating, along with community elder Sedalia Fazio, gives confidence for others to speak.
“These circles are led by confidentiality, they’re led by safety. We open with Sedalia doing a traditional Kanien’kehá:ka opening prayer, which leads the workshop by ceremony and acknowledgement.
“Melanie speaks on her perspective of what it felt like to be a sibling of her sister who was murdered. They’re led by Indigenous practices. And through the experience of Melanie, we navigate collectively as a group through the grief,” she said.
“The embroidery on the fabric are the stories, which are carried through symbolism. The fabric can also be part of the stories. Some women chose a plain white fabric, some women chose to bring the fabric of their sister’s dress or a daughter’s sleeping blanket and they choose to embroider something symbolic representing the story they wish to share,” said St-Louis.
For the women who are doing this for the first time, St-Louis said, “we have stencils of different symbols for those who are not too sure how to embroider. We have Izzy Enright, who helps the women with their embroidery or beading part of it.”
St-Louis said the project is also about reaching out to women in nearby communities to be mobilized. She said that Kahnawake is one of the places organizers felt would be a perfect location to have a workshop at.
Morrison said the sessions have been beneficial for the women who have come to share their stories because, “we let each other know that we’re there for them, and that it’s a safe place for them to share their trauma. I think it’s been a really positive experience and we want to have more people get a chance to participate.”
The embroidered patterns created by the women will be collected and put into a coffee table book.
“This Memory Quilt is all the stories of the women,” said St-Louis. “Every piece is the embodiment of the story that each woman is carrying. That story will then be recorded and put into an art book as a narrative, without names but with the meaning of that embroidered piece. So it’s going to be a book for Women are Sisters,” she said.
The book and the quilt are expected to be completed and unveiled in the spring of 2020, after which they will be used to educate in places like museums and schools.
“It will help to shed some light back on the issue and keep it going,” said Morrison.
Women are Sisters is open to all women who have dealt with violence, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, said Morrison. “I always said that my sister is human first and that her race, her nationality or whatever they use to label us shouldn’t be a factor in the way that her case is handled or the way that she is portrayed in the media.
“There is a need to bring awareness that our women are like everyone else and that they deserve the same treatment.”
For Morrison, being a part of this project has helped her own journey. ”It’s really a healing experience to be around other people who have experienced the same types of things and helps you feel less alone. I can’t emphasize that enough that it’s true healing.”
The Women are Sisters workshop will be held in Kahnawake on November 2 and 3 at the Family and Wellness Center, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. You can also find more information on the Ashukan Women are Sisters Facebook event page to register and get involved.
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