Quilts to provide comfort as MMIW inquiry process begins
- Andréa Ledding | May 30, 2017
Preparing for the first National Inquiry truth gathering process in Whitehorse on May 29th, the Saskatoon offices of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry are bursting at the seams with community-created quilt pieces. In a corner room overlooking the downtown area, retired nurse June Semple and lead seamstress Sarah Bellerose have been piecing together over 200 hand-decorated quilt squares onto red backing: tangible support and comfort offered by many for the difficult process ahead.
“It can be quite emotional, sometimes you have to stop for a minute, because there’s so much thought gone into these squares and people are so creative,” notes Bellerose, who watched over 150 people attend the open event the previous week. “There were people in business suits and people that were having a rough life, you could tell...it’s really powerful knowing these blankets are going to comfort someone who has lost somebody they love.”
The blankets were first envisioned by the inquiry’s Grandmother’s Advisory Council, to both adorn and hold the space with the intentions of the blankets at gatherings. The Council considered star blankets or quilts, but decided to create community quilts with precut pieces of cloth, explained Special Advisor Gina Zeegers, aka community leader and singer/songwriter Jorgina Sunn.
“We didn’t want to put boundaries on what people were creating - but we asked questions like, what does ending violence look like to you, how do you express the love and support to family members,” said Zeegers, noting there were various stakeholders, community members, and missing and murdered groups including Iskwewuk e-Wichiwitochik and MMIWG family members present and engaged. “We’re here to serve the families and that intention was absolutely throughout the event...at the day’s end we had over 200 squares done.”
Along with the open event held at Station 20 West in the core neighbourhood, females at the Maple Creek Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, various women’s sharing circles, and women in transitional houses fleeing domestic violence also contributed, with support from the Elizabeth Fry Society and Zeegers’ contacts from her extensive community work.
“The people want to know how they can be involved: whether they are impacted by a lost loved one or not,” said Zeegers. “Whether this is one event or something that can be replicated across Canada, we’re so pleased about that. I had a lump in my throat all day Friday, watching people sit and create loving space together.”
While the Inquiry has lately drawn heavy criticism and negative media across the country, Zeegers only addresses the incredible support and passion of the Saskatchewan community backing the inquiry: a more productive and proactive approach to helping the inquiry move forward in a daunting task.
“We will have 20 blankets completed by this Friday in order to be ready for the first truth gathering process in Whitehorse on May 29th.”
Commissioner Marilyn Poitras emphasizes the extensive input Elders have in the process; they welcome more involvement from not only Elders but anyone who wants to be involved.
“This is everyone’s inquiry,” noted Poitras. “People want to participate and I just wish everyone could actually see this - every community we go into people just want to participate, they just want this to happen, they want to help.”
Poitras says letting people in, letting them see what the inquiry is doing, and asking everyone to help is the traditional way of doing things, and that’s the message she wants the media and the community to really hear.
“That’s the traditional way - that everybody has a role - and there’s nothing wrong with that request as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s valid and legitimate and necessary and will make our work that much better and that’s my opinion about that.”
When asked about the latest criticisms, Poitras was completely open.
“I think we’re trying so hard to do such a good job, that we’re getting caught up in the work and then we go “oh yeah come on in, come on in” and that’s just got to happen more often,” Poitras noted, adding that all of the energy and focus right now is on the upcoming Whitehorse hearing, especially difficult logistics due to recent earthquakes: the public buildings aren’t stable. Community and health workers are on the ground organizing ceremonial and practical aspects, with extensive local consultation.
“And so it’s just trying to get all those wheels turning on this huge engine to start moving in a good direction,” noted Poitras. “I think it’s great to have high expectations, and to hold our feet to the fire on it.”
Most of all, she wants to announce the doors are wide open to invite people in.
“This is a national, community-based, family-focused inquiry: nobody is meant to be excluded.”