A new art installation in Selkirk, Man., is being created to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and it is being spearheaded by a woman who lost her mother at an early age.
“Sometimes it’s really hard for people to articulate what it means to be a family member of the missing and murdered because our emotions get really involved in the process,” said Jeannie Red Eagle.
“And sometimes we can’t articulate in the way that we can do it artistically.”
Red Eagle is Anishinaabekwe member of Rolling River First Nation and is from Selkirk.
When she was four, her mother Mary Alvina Whitebird was killed. Red Eagle spoke about her experiences before the national inquiry for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“I began part of that healing journey when I spoke at the national inquiry regarding the death of my mother and for being a survivor of violence myself,” said Red Eagle.
After the inquiry, the Government of Canada set up a $13 million commemoration fund for projects to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Red Eagle submitted a project on behalf of the Interlake Art Board and Rolling River First Nation.
Her project was among those chosen and it received $50,000. They began consultations with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to talk about what they would like to see included.
The art installation will be set within the natural prairie grass field of the Gaynor Family Regional Library in Selkirk.
“It’s going to look like a gigantic turtle emerging up out of the ground,” said Red Eagle.
A healing space
One of the consultants and artists helping with the project is Charlie Johnston, who has 32 years of mural experience.
From above, the project will be the shape of a turtle and from the turtle’s nose to tail, the installation will be approximately 23 metres in length.
The project will include four panels made out of Lexan polycarbonate, and will be painted in four different colours representing the medicine wheel, the four directions and four seasons. It will have a space for a fire and will have rocks which will be placed in the shape of the turtle.
The plan was to design the space as a place for the community to gather.
“It’s a way for a person or family to come into this site and feel protected while they go on a healing journey,” said Johnston.
Johnston, who is non-Indigenous, said his brother’s girlfriend Cathy Williams went missing in 1988.
He said working on this project is an opportunity to honour her and he sees it as his own personal act of reconciliation.
Progress was slowed by the pandemic, but with the help of local artists Ashley Christiansen, Bradley Lent and Annie Beach, two out of the four panels have been painted.
Beach, who just graduated from the University of Manitoba, said she has experience painting about a dozen public murals but that this one is different.
“Eventually people can gather here or individually come visit the mural and spend time and just heal with it if they need to.”
Red Eagle said phase one is completing the painting of the four panels and phase two will be landscaping the project, which is expected to begin in the spring and will hopefully be finished by fall 2021.