As part of our Solstice celebrations this year, my family participated in a Faceless Doll-making workshop. This was held at the Guelph Women in Crisis Center (WIC). The event was co-sponsored by the WIC and OPIRG-Guelph. While we enjoyed decorating felt dolls and eating strawberries and bannock with community members, this activity was part of a much more serious and mostly invisible issue facing First Nations women today. The dolls we created become storybooks, visual art, and ‘maps’ which represent murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), researchers identified almost 600 Aboriginal women, who are missing or murdered, over a five year period. Some key findings of the NWAC 2010 report are:
- The majority of missing women disappeared from the western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).
- Over half of the women were 31 years or younger.
- 88% of these women were mothers.
- 53% of current murder cases remain unsolved.
- 70% of the murder cases occurred in urban areas.
Despite these horrible statistics, very little has been done on a National level to address the problem. In fact, former Prime Minister Harper refused to hold a federal inquiry into the issue, insisting that “most” cases of murdered Aboriginal women had been solved. This is interesting, given that 53% of current cases remain unsolved! It was not until this year that current Prime Minister Trudeau has made promises to begin a Federal inquiry into the matter. Information on the inquiry can now be found at the government of Canada website: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca.
The NWAC began the Sisters in Spirit Initiative in 2010. Their mission is “to help empower women by being involved in developing and changing legislation which affects them, and involving them in the development and delivery of programs promoting equal opportunity for Aboriginal women.” Their report concludes that ending the cycle of violence against Aboriginal women is the responsibility of all of us – all genders, all levels of government, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities alike.
The faceless doll project is an initiative begun by the NWAC, so that the many missing and murdered women would not be forgotten. Each doll created is a visual representation of each missing woman. The reasons the dolls remain faceless is to show not only how Aboriginal women are devalued in society, but that each doll can be any Aboriginal woman who experiences forms of violence in their lives. There is also another reason. According to one article, a young student explained that the dolls were faceless because “society has stopped looking for them”.
Every faceless doll tells a story. Each and every doll created for display blankets becomes a type of map. These dolls are both story and map, because they represent a specific place and time where another person has heard the stories of the missing women. Each doll represents women who are loved and missed by their children and families. Every doll created by community members now gives a voice to people who have been unjustly silenced, and rendered invisible through our own silence and failure to act.
The blanket displays created by the NWAC perform many functions – as maps, history, stories and visual art. Most importantly, the faceless doll initiative serves as a vivid reminder that missing Aboriginal women have not disappeared. It is up to all of us to make sure that these women are not forgotten – and that the causes for injustice against First Nations communities are addressed, redressed, and changed!
Today marks the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is traditionally a celebration of warmth and light, and the longest day of the year. It is my hope that we can all take some of that light and use it to illuminate some of the invisible problems for people in our world – not only today – but every day! Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity: Making the Invisible, Visible.
Image source: http://www.rabble.ca
 NWAC. Sisters in Spirit 2010 Research Findings. What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative.