A Gift Inspired by Seeking Truth and New Relationships

The Joint Truth and Reconciliation Action Group (JTRAG), supported by Chalmers, Faith and Sydenham Street United Churches, was established in 2016. One of JTRAG’s founding goals was to educate ourselves and others on the legacy of colonialist policies and practices on Canada’s first peoples.  In Winter 2022, JTRAG offered an online reading group focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.  The note below was written by two members of the reading group who met again at an outdoor worship service marking the National Indigenous Peoples Day in June 2022.  For further information on JTRAG, see:  https://sydenhamstreet.ca/ssuc1/community-outreach/jtrag/

The statistics are numbing. In Canada, indigenous women constitute 16 percent of murdered women, 11 percent of missing women and 4.3 percent of Canada’s population. In its final report released in June 2019, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls released in June 2019, identified many contributing factors for this phenomenon, including discrimination, poverty, and colonization.  It further concluded that “Canada’s systemic neglect constituted genocide under international law.” 

In Winter 2022, the Joint Truth and Reconciliation Action Group (JTRAG) hosted an online book study to better understand the increased vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.  Our key resources were Keetsahnak: Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters, edited by Kim Anderson, Maria Campbell and Christi Belcourt, and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls in Canada, including the more than 200 recommendations for change. 

Helena Neveu (Waasaabiudaasamose Kwe) was one of the participants.  In June 2022, at a worship service at Rotary Park, Helena presented each of the three participating congregations with a framed print of a pair of moccasin tops or vamps. The prints were inspired by the travelling memorial installation of over two thousand vamps to honour the lives of Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people and express support and care for grieving families.  The memorial toured Canada from 2013 to 2018. 

In her own words (below), Helena shared her reasons for gifting us the vamp prints. 

“I hope that it is in giving that I will receive. I have always loved the prayer of St. Francis and I remember, when my mother died, I was able to pick the music, of course, that beautiful message was there; the message that says, ‘Make me a channel of your peace.’

“Through many of our givings, we think of our families, our first educators, good and bad. My experiences with your [JTRAG] group has brought me back to those days of memories. In the book Keetsahnak, there is a message that says: ‘Our families continue to guide us from the spirit world.’ I feel so honoured to be that catalyst, thinking of my family. I was extremely touched to be asked to help guide the book study on Keetsahnak and help to explain MMIWG concept to the people.  

I thought the vamp prints were fitting. As a moccasin maker, I had been invited to lead the making of vamps at the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre at Queen’s University, to be later sent to the Walking With Our Sisters collaboration. From the resulting quilt came a beautiful calendar that was distributed a few years later.  

With the then student advisor at Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, I framed four prints.  The frames are made from a downed local cherry tree by my friend, Peter Sorensen. In June 2022, I invited representatives from each church to choose a print. As we spoke of them, there was one that I called “Wind Sisters” and I got to keep that one…thank you. 

The JTRAG co-chair chose the one with traditional rosettes, illustrating how  Indigenous people express themselves through flora and fauna. Another print was of beaded bleeding hearts which I love and always think of my mother and all the heartache I put her through.  How I have been carried so many times is represented in this giving and I remember the woman carrying that one away. The vision is so awesome it is hard to put it into words but I felt that all the prints were so accepted with love.   The other print still had the needle up in the corner which caught my eye. I remember those who chose that one with great affection. They were focused on that needle with so much love and caring in their eyes. I felt that all the prints were so accepted with love. Gitchi Miigwech from the bottom of my heart.”

Lynn Freeman and Helena Neveu / Waasaabiudaasamose Kwe