A new travelling sewing project honouring the lives of missing and murdered Inuit women and girls launched in Winnipeg this month.
The Red Amautiit Project was created by the Manitoba Inuit Association building on Métis artist Jaime Black’s installation The REDress Project.
The idea was borne after several conversations during the organization’s sewing classes.
“We decided we really should be trying to find a way to commemorate our missing and murdered loved ones,” said Gayle Gruben, project officer for the Red Amautiit Project.
“We’ll follow the concept of the First Nations and how they commemorate their missing and murdered daughters, sisters and mothers with the red dress.”
For three days, three Inuit women gathered to create an amauti (singular) from start to finish.
Even though Grace Tookome wore one when she carried both her sons, this was the first time she was making the traditional parka.
“The hardest part was the arm part. It’s so many different pieces. You have to…make sure it’s not upside down,” said Tookome.
The amauti is a coat worn by Inuit women. It has a large pocket in the back where mothers carry their children, usually during the first two years of their lives.
The amauti is important to Inuit because it creates a bonding experience between mother and child.
“You get to feel the breath of your baby on your back and how their heart beats and their little movements. Just that feeling of security that your child is safe,” explained Gruben.
Over the next year the group will travel to 12 places in Canada, including Brandon and Churchill in Manitoba, the Kivalliq Region in Nunavut and two communities in Nunatsiavut.
People will help create an amauti at each location.
“We want the message out there that we miss the people that have gone, who are missing, who have been killed by domestic abuse and violence,” said Gruben.
“We just want to use this to say, ‘We haven’t forgotten about you.’”
The project also gives participants the space to share their language, culture and stories.
The first day was “emotional,” said Tookome, who doesn’t have a missing or murdered family member but took time to support others who shared memories of their loved ones.
Gruben hopes one day to see the project displayed in a national gallery or exhibition. She said too often Inuit voices have been left out of the conversation around missing and murdered victims.
“We need to let people know that there are a lot of Inuit who have been affected.”
The project is supported through the federal government’s commemoration fund for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which was announced in June.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called on the government to create the fund in its interim report released in 2017.