ETFO’s annual leadership conference for women, … and still we rise (ASWR), is known for providing inspiring ideas women educators can use to make a difference in their classrooms and communities. Keynote speakers Erin Marie Konsmo and Krysta Williams from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network described one such opportunity to the over 400 participants gathered at this year’s conference in a passionate presentation about the Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) project.
Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation of 1,800 pairs of moccasin vamps (tops) uniquely designed to honour the lives of Indigenous women, children and Two-Spirit people who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada and the United States, including children who did not return from residential schools. At present, close to 1,200 Indigenous women and girls have been reported missing or have been murdered in the last 30 years in Canada. As the walkingwithoursisters.ca website explains: “Each pair of moccasin tops are intentionally not sewn into moccasins to represent the unfinished lives of the women and girls.”
Konsmo and Williams highlighted the important role educators can play in restoring agreements and relationships with Indigenous peoples by getting involved in projects like WWOS. They were pleased that two women in the room had already visited an installation and a handful of people knew someone who had created a pair of moccasin vamps.
Now into its second year, Walking With Our Sisters is expected to visit up to 30 communities in Canada and potentially the United States over seven years. What makes the art installation unique is that it travels from community to community and is transformed into not only a new work of art, but also a ceremonial lodge in each place it visits. Every hosting community can choose how it wants to represent the 1,800 pairs of moccasin vamps that make up the collection. In Thunder Bay, the moccasin vamps were displayed in a turtle shape with 13 sections. Themes for other communities have included a teepee, a canoe and northern lights.
As the “bundle” of moccasin vamps and other sacred items is transported by mini-van from community to community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together to create a meaningful art installation from the vamps. The installation is welcomed for the support and healing it brings to Indigenous families who have lost loved ones, as well as the community members who take part in creating or visiting the installation. Raising awareness and the youth volunteer involvement the project offers are important components too.