'They’re not forgotten': Art installation aims to educate community on MMIWG

A new art installation has taken shape at the Parkdale Cromdale Community League in Edmonton to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

The display incorporates stories from families who have lost loved ones to violence and injustice in Canada, according to Kevin Wong, president of PCCL and the installation artist.

“Every picture that’s being projected onto this installation, there’s a sad story and there’s a family that actually lost their family members behind that picture,” he explained.

The idea for the interactive installation and educational initiative came to Wong and his partner last winter told CTV News Edmonton he wanted to use his voice to help the community heal but reached out to the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society first to collaborate and receive some guidance on how to best pay tribute to the families.

“It’s truly a community effort and we hope to raise awareness for this worthy cause,” he said.

“It displays honour, it displays love, it displays kindness and beauty — all of these things that were taken from us,” Cheryl Whiskeyjack, executive director for the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, said.

“When the wind whips up the panels they disappear and we see symbolism in that. It's evoking things we didn’t even anticipate.”

'WE’RE JUST TRYING TO BE HEARD'

Wong told CTV News the installation is made up of four concentric circles, so as you go through there’s red flags and fabric hanging down as a symbol of the red dress for MMIWG. They’ve also incorporated symbolism for missing Indigenous men, boys, and two-spirit people as well (MMIWG2S).

“One family member before they left, they came and told me it was great to see their son living again on the installation,” Wong said. “There’s so many families out there missing their loved ones and I hope that this can also bring a little bit of comfort to the family knowing that there are people thinking about them…they’re not forgotten.”

“For them to see a community that cares about their lost family member says a lot,” Whiskeyjack added.

Stephanie Harpe, a survivor and international advocate for Indigenous peoples, told CTV News she played a role in helping bring the installation to life by collecting interviews and getting the creators the songs that are about “what this incredible tragedy is.”

“We’re just trying to be heard,” she noted.

Harpe not only had a role in this educational piece, but it also brings up a lot of emotions, as she has a personal connection to one of the stories being told.

“My mother is included in this installation of honour,” she said.

“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, of memory, of sadness, of happiness of you know -- knowing that I’m carrying on her life, her musical love, her talents and you know she was a gift. She just suffered in her trauma because of what residential school and all that historical oppression has done to all of our people we’re all still hurting and this still deeply affects us every single day.”

'WE WANT TO LIVE WITHOUT A TARGET ON OUR BACKS'

Harpe told CTV News the memorial is a great tribute to bring attention to reflection as it highlights the need for action going forward.

“This is a daily survival for us,” she said. “We want to live, we want to live without a target on our backs, we want to live where we have justice, we want to live where we have our freedoms and to be treated like everybody else.”

“We cannot stop talking about it,” Wong added. “We need to make noise and make sure people know these people have gone missing and their lives matter and their families are still waiting to hear back from some of them.”

The installation is expected to be up from now until Oct. 17, but Harpe said there is discussion of more awareness projects in the works — she just can’t reveal anything specific yet.

“We need more of this collaboration of Canadians who are reaching out,” she said. “This is what reaching out does and being a strong ally can do.”

“Being an advocate, this isn’t a job you can clock in and out of.”

Whiskeyjack took a moment to reflect on the installation and what it stands for saying “she’s really proud to be a part of this.”

“I’m just so blessed that I answered that call last winter.”