Art to spark awareness of MMIWG2S+

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

A new art installation in the area is aiming to spark conversation and awareness around an important social issue.

In a partnership between Binesiwag Centre for Wellness and Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI), a large piece of art in the form of a traditional jingle dancer is being installed on the grounds of SGEI’s Fort Frances campus and will remain there for the rest of the month, hopefully inspiring those who pass by to ask questions and further their understanding of the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S+) individuals in Canada.

Erika Jourdain is a student employee at Binesiwag and the individual who has helped bring the art piece to life, from inspiration to final installation. Jourdain explained that the original idea for the piece came from a conversation she had with Mandi Olson, her supervisor and mentor, about ways that they could help to bring awareness to the national day of awareness and remembrance for MMIWG2S+ on May 5.

Red jingles hung on Erika Jourdain’s art installation will dance in the wind, as a source of strength. Jingles are a traditional symbol which offer healing to the land, the people and the spirit. – Ken Kellar photos

“It started out as a brainstormed idea on how we could try to shift the focus of those individuals who have been impacted to something more strength-based,” she explained.

“When Mandi started talking about creating a seven foot tall jingle dress dancer to represent these individuals who had been impacted, that conversation had started already. Bringing it back to the importance of the dance, and the jingle dress – traditionally they represent and offer healing to our people, our spirits, our land. When talking about changing the perspective and shifting that focus, we hope that those who are in the midst of this crisis will see themselves in the dancer and recognize their strengths, those roots and who and what walks with them.”

Jourdain said the entire art installation, which was installed on Tuesday and officially opened today, May 5, to coincide with the National Day of Awareness, is important in a number of very specific and meaningful ways, helping to elevate the piece beyond just a display of art. There is significance in where it has been placed, what it is standing on, and the way it will look that go beyond the superficial. Take its placement next to the highway that winds out of Fort Frances, past SGEI and Couchiching First Nation, and continues into the east.

“The highway connects us to all of our neighbouring communities, as well as the hundreds of vehicles that pass by daily,” Jourdain explained.

“So making sure we have that exposure there so that the public can really see that and hopefully start asking those questions like who she is and what it means. We’ve strung and illuminated the red jingles on the dancer with red lights so at night you’ll be able to see the display as well, and what you’ll really see is those jingles lit up to represent all of those impacted. Because the jingles are strung on there instead of painted, they’ll dance and you’ll hear them sing, which is heart medicine to us as Indigenous people.”

This jingle dress dancer art installation, a joint effort of Binesiwag Centre for Wellness and Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) was officially unveiled to the public this morning on SGEI’s Fort Frances campus grounds. The piece will be on display to the public in recognition of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) National Day of Awareness today (May 5), as well as for the rest of the month in order to continue promoting education and discussion around the national crisis. The piece features string lights as the jingles on the dress, so that the art can also be seen at night. –Ken Kellar photo

The building of the art piece was also an inclusive process, with Jourdain explaining that the jingles were strung by the centre’s Queers and Allies Program. Overall, she said, the process of building the art piece for the purpose of raising awareness around the MMIWG2S+ crisis itself helped to raise awareness and promote conversations within and between the different groups that had come to work together. The entire process has been a larger part of learning and growing.

“With every single piece of this coming together there’s been opportunity for awareness, for education, for recognition each time that we’ve worked on this project together,” Jourdain said.

“Basically what we’ve described that as is as the initiative or beginning of a giveaway ceremony. It’s essentially that we’re receiving information and we’re giving information. We’re receiving healing and we’re giving off that healing as this process moves forward, as well as throughout the month of May when we’re encouraging the public to come and make their offering to this dancer.”

Jourdain said that throughout the month of May while the art is open to the public, the dancer will be considered a sacred site. A ceremony will be performed, and the dancer will rest on cedar, which is a traditional medicine, as well as a grandfather rock.

“Basically our hope is to offer healing to those who have been impacted by this national crisis,” Jourdain said.

“It’s happening nationally and more specifically, it’s happening in our communities right now, every single day. There are people who are impacted by this in our community, and it goes back to things like human trafficking, which is involved with the MMIWG2S+ crisis.”

There’s another hope that the dancer will inspire courage and strength in those who need it, people who might be dealing with pain inflicted by the ongoing crisis, or who might just see faces of those missing or murdered and see them as statistics rather than the human beings they are.

“Every single day there are these new faces on our social media that put these women who have gone missing on display,” Jourdain said.

“Rather than having our public having that preconceived judgement on these individuals, our hope is that they’ll see this dancer. They’ll see their face and then see this dancer and the beauty and strength and pride in these individuals, because that’s who they are. And they’re being murdered, they’re going missing, they’re being ignored and silenced. There is that stigma, and there is that judgement on this crisis and on these people in general, so when we can shift that focus to something more strength-based, then there’s an opportunity for everybody to make a connection with this.”

The vision of the final art installation, the jingle dancer who will stand tall next to the highway at SGEI, is the result of many different people from different walks of life working together, Jourdain said. They shared stories of wellness and resilience in the hopes that it will empower the community, and even people across the country during a time when they hope that people will discuss the issue of MMIWG2S+ in Canada. Through those conversations and heightening dialogue, and even through an art piece meant to provoke your imagination and spur you to learn more, the country might begin to reckon with this ongoing issue in the hopes that someday it might no longer be one.

“We want to encourage everybody to think about who this dancer is to them to be able to make that connection,” she said.

“Because even if you don’t think that you have anyone in your family who has gone missing or been murdered, or you don’t think you have any connection, if you think about who she is to you, you’ve made it and you now have some kind of relationship with those people who we’re talking about. As time and this month goes on, because it’s sacred and tobacco is being offered there, there is a relationship and connection there with everybody who is able to think about the question of who she is to them.”