The Red Dress Exhibit
By Michele-Elise Burnett
Based on the 13 Grandmother Moons and the cycle of the women, is an immersive experience featuring 13 empty Red dresses hanging from trees, telling the untold stories of 13 Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and 2 Spirit (MMIWG2S) from 13 Indigenous Peoples here in the Western New York and Niagara regions. The exhibit is intended to increase awareness for the epidemic of the ongoing horrific systemic racial crimes targeting Indigenous women and girls; to remember the lost lives of the victims; to teach; to give Indigenous women a voice; to inspire a new cross-cultural generation based on inclusivity, compassion, love and; to collectively offer the MMIWG our love, gratitude create a safe, nurturing and welcoming environment for Indigenous Peoples. With Native women being victims of murder more than 10 times the national average, this exhibit is about empathic LOVE
Each Red dress will be as unique and beautiful as the MMIWG it represents and the ribbons sewn on the dresses will be the keepers of their story. This three-day exhibit will include a downloadable audio-produced documentary tour, narrative signage, public participation in a large loom textile blanket creation, and a special opening night intimate acoustic concert by The Circle - featuring Indigenous and allied musicians, Kenny Lee Lewis, Linda McKenzie, Tonemah and others in an intimate setting sharing the story behind their MMIWG songs.
This three-day exhibit is free-to-attend and features unique daily activities, and includes a downloadable audio documentary tour, narrative signage, Elder’s healing Circle, MMIWG2S workshops, storytelling, and teachings.
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THE RED DRESS EXHIBIT CONTAINS SENSITIVE CONTENT THAT COULD EVOKE A STRONG EMOTIONAL REACTION, AND IT ALSO MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN. PERSONAL AND PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Jump to: The Residential Door | Grandmother Jackie Labonte | Mary Annette Clause | Marie Louise Bowering | Violet Printup | Vanessa Brousseau | Leona Sky | Jill Lunn | Cindy Simpson | Fallon Farinacci | Nicole Joy-Fraser | Shyann Jenkins | Carrissa Gracey | Darrell Doxtdator | Kenny Lee Lewis | Linda Mckenzie | Tonemah |
Artist's bios and artistic statements were provided at their own discretion
Wildflower song represents the children laughing and playing allowing the wildflowers to spread far and wide in the fields before Residential schools - the distorted drum beat overtaking the children’s laughter and eventually drowning them out represents how our voices, our languages, our cultures and traditions were forbidden and colonization suffocated our peoples. The door closing was when we lost …. And the western wind represents the dark period caused by colonization. The wildflowers never spread the same way as they once did before the 1860’s.
Jackie Labonte (tekaiatakwas) is self-identified from the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk Nation, Six Nations of Grand River Territory. She resides in the Niagara region, having worked with Native organizations for over thirty years providing services, sharing Traditional Teachings and serving as a Cultural Advisor. Jackie and her life partner Oliver Nobosin are currently engaged in expanding a cultural collective known as Kimisken (You found it), which provides culturally based Workshops and Circles.
About their dress:
“This dress represents our Indigenous Women & Girls that were incarcerated within the various institutions throughout Canada, and the United States. The outfit is symbolic with two pieces, bringing balance to the entity of their Spirits. The Red top – represents the MMIWQLGB2SSTQ. The Black bottom represents the dark period within their lives. It also represents the Western Door that many have gone through, being Home now with Creator, and finally at peace”
This outfit represents our Indigenous Women & Girls that were incarcerated within the various institutions throughout Canada, and the United States. The outfit is symbolic with two pieces, bringing balance to the entity of their Spirits. The Red top – represents the MMIWQLGB2SSTQ. The Black bottom represents the dark period within their lives. It also represents the Western Door that many have gone through, being Home now with Creator, and finally at peace. This collective of women, often attributed their incarceration – as the reason they were alive. Their lives were sporadically filled with periods of trauma; some of it spilling over from their parents and Grandparents, themselves wading through the aftermath of the experiences of Residential Schools and the 60’s Scoop. A lot of the women didn’t have a chance. But many saw that Creator gave them a second chance of Life. And they chose to do things differently. I met many of these women – and am honoured to have shared their path for a while. I was able to share some of the things they chose to pick up; Like the Medicines, The Ceremonies, Drumming and Singing,Finding a voice, and using it. They evolved so much when they connected to our Culture, and Creator. I’m reminded specifically of ‘Jo-Jo’. She thought long and hard before letting you into her private circle. She made that commitment for change to herself, and to her son. We’ll never know how far she would be down that Healing Path, as her young life was tragically taken at the tender age of 33.
The coloured ribbons represent the colours of the Rainbow, and remind me of the 7 GrandFather Teachings. But it also represents the colour of the Pride community. Jo-Jo embraced both. I’d like to think the MMIWG are now sitting under their Rainbow – and able to fully know, see, and feel The teachings they chose to embrace.
Family Member: Honouring Josephine “Jo-Jo” Pelletier
Birthdate: February 25th 1985
Date of transition: May 17th 2018
Life is so short, but HOPE is what changed me from being a victim to a SURVIVOR and now a WARRIOR.
Birthdate: September 12, 1958
Assault date: November 19, 2019
As fast as a blink of an eye your life can be turned upside down and you find yourself standing at the door of death. You don’t have a second to think of what is going to happen next. Your life memories flash back to you in that split second and you are thinking to yourself, is this the end of my life and my last breath.
Suddenly, all I did was shut down instantly, my body became numb, and I could feel my body freeze. All I could do is just stand there and pray. My prayer requested two choices, if this is my last breath, please make it quick and painless, or if I still had a purpose to live here on earth, please protect me and save me from harm. In an instant, I felt like a shield of glass fell around me and I would be safe from harm. This incident caused me to go down a spiral deep dark hole of darkness because of the trauma my body had just experienced and just suffered. Even though I knew I was alive, my body had died, and I suffered a severe emotional trauma breakdown.
I checked into trauma counseling immediately. This is where my healing journey began and am very thankful, I did this for myself. I had many women who advised me on to heal from trauma and what I needed to do to get well again.
About their dress:
My dress represents the tools I used to help me heal from trauma.
The black ribbon on the bottom of the dress represents the dark deep hole I was placed in. I was trying to crawl out of trauma and facing the demons I have encountered in my life.
The ladies standing on top of the black represent the people who have help uplift me and hold me up today. These ladies have been an important part of my life the last three years. They have encouraged me to get past that trauma and taught me many ways to use for my life skills to heal.
I have incorporated each of these items into the dress to show my healing journey and what skills I learned and how each one of these four items helped me heal.
I have acquired many methods and learning skills to use everyday. I realized that everything is in groups of four.
- Fire, Wind, Earth, Wind
- Mind, Body, Soul, Spirit
- Sage, Tobacco, Sweet Grass, Cedar
- Four Directions: North, East, South, West
Each element plays a part in your life and if one of those elements are out of balance it creates you to be in a turmoil state. To bring peace, love, life, and joy back to your well being you need to work on these areas within your self.
I learned to be more open to my natural environment that surrounds me, to find peace in my life. I had built a fire and I sat many days just praying for healing to finding who I am and what I am supposed to be. Many times, during these mediation times I would see eagles flying above my head in the clear blue sky. Many times, rabbits, hawks, and other animals would be seen gathering in my yard out back of my home. I believe these creatures some to show face that they are behind you and there to comfort you as well. I found my peaceful place and started to enjoy the creations the Creator has created for us humans to enjoy.
I had to start all over and experienced a rebirth within my inner core. It was like a baby learning to walk and relied on therapy to rebuild my life. I am a changed woman and not the same woman I was 3 years ago. I fought a hard battle, but I am winning because I see myself growing again and know that I am here to help others along. I know where my life is steering me towards and that is to make everyone know that they can be a survivor as well and you don’t need to be stuck in a domestic abuse relationship.
About Marie :
I am Marie Louise, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Mohawk of Kahnawake; born and raised in the Niagara Region. I am a daughter, Mother, Grandmother, Auntie Cousin, Sister and Friend. The Niagara Native community has been nurturing and guiding me for 25 years as I walk with the Grandmothers and teachings of traditions.
Currently, I am the Indigenous Graduation Coach for the Niagara Catholic District School board. Understanding the importance and connections of the Youth and the Elders is instrumental in the work that I do in the community.
About their dress:
Red Dress Memorial for Elizabeth (Lizzy) Monick Diome
Elizabeth Bella Monick Diome
Return home - October 9, 1955
Place of residence - St. Catharines, ON
Place of assault/murder – Niagara Falls New York
Honoring our Matriarch Grandmother Elizabeth – Lizzy through the Red Dress Exhibit
This community has inspired me to be part of the MMIWG - Red Dress Exhibit as we continue to seek healing and bring awareness for our MMIWG. The Niagara Indigenous Community continually creates safe spaces to share our voices and inspire as we heal. When asked to join the circle 13 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls I was immediately intrigued and committed. Selecting the red dress was a unique process and fun; I went to the
Thrift stores and asked Creator to help me find the perfect Red dress to represent our Grandmother Lizzy. The red cotton dress stood out as it was grandmotherly looking and would represent Lizzy and her Legacy. When we found the dress I held it up and could see her in this dress. How would we bring this dress to life? What items would we select to help heal and share Lizzy with the Nations? What family members would get involved? What do we know about her to share and how can we capture Lizzy in this dress? I could see Lizzy beaded across the waist line to bring her name alive in this dress and I could feel the strength and healing from her being.
I started to ask questions; family shared what little they knew about Lizzy and her death. It was challenging to start this conversation and hear the parallels of our lives. We had to find old newspapers clippings of her beating and murder. We had to look at the dark pass of our ancestors and family traumas as we turn it into love light and healing.
As the family began to share I asked for help I knew this was too much for me to do alone. I too was beat and left for dead at the age of 24 on May 5, 1994. The only way I could honor my word was to work with the family. We created a face book group and my Sister, Cousins, and family began to bring forward images and ideas we had to capture Lizzy. We had four generations come together to begin the process of this beautiful Red Dress.
Soon as I saw the dress I saw Lizzy on the waist line and that was the starting place. As family gathered we selected the Bear for the back of the dress for the women protection and medicines and all the healing energies in our family and for Lizzy. We selected the phases of the moons to connect to the Grandmother Moon with Crystals coming out of the moon for the pure love light and healing. We choice two black hearts for the darkness and unknown love surrounding this trauma.
MMIW – printed under the waist line.
Leather Medicine pouch with the four colors to honor each Nation and direction as well as traditional sacred medicines to place in pouch which will be hung on the dress. The pouch and medicines will help her spirit and give her what was taken.
We plan to put our handprints on the dress as well to connect with her and a reminder “every child matters”. Our family has been impacted by the trauma of Indian Residential School and the Government mission “Kill the Indian – Save the Child”. We are still here Grandma – We are still here
We will continue to be inspired and receive messages on what else to add to Lizzy’s Red dress and we look forward to sharing her story and bringing her to life through this Red Dress Exhibit and our family’s willingness to share our voices and heal.
Violet Printup, Tuscarora Bear clan, grew up on the Tuscarora Nation, the 2022-2023 Miss Tuscarora Princess, and is an oncoming freshman at Niagara University. She attended Niagara Wheatfield High School, and danced at Adell’s School of dance. Violet enjoys dancing at powwows in the categories Fancy Shawl and Jingle Dress, as well as sewing, and beadwork
“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is an epidemic that has recently come to light, but indigenous peoples have been facing since the beginning of exploration. With this project, I want to bring awareness to all people, but also be able to help combat, as well as being an end to MMIW”
About their dress:
The spirit of this dress comes from the Tuscarora people. It connects us from our past generations, and trauma experienced from our time in North Carolina to the modern day. As well as acknowledging our history, as tuscarora people. Missing and murdered Indigenous woman though a very modern platform, is not new to the Tuscarora people. In the mid-1600s down in North Carolina, the Tuscarora people were fighting with the local settlers and the state of North Carolina. With first contact, our women, children, and men were being kidnapped and sent back to Europe, or places like the Caribbean for slavery. Our people being stolen was also in an attempt to weaken, it also exterminates us. As well as to get more power over us, and gain the resources that we had. Which is similar to MMIW now, which is about having more power, and exterminating indigenous peoples. After many more of our people began to vanish, the Tuscarora wars of 1710 started. After the last attempt to remain in North Carolina as our people were still being stolen, or killed, we took the long migration in seeking refuge. During the migration many had to undergo hardships and make difficult decisions to protect the people but also ensured that there would be the seventh generation. While passing a fort along a river, a woman was carrying a baby. The baby began to cry, in a quick decision to ensure that her people would survive, the woman drowned her baby. The Tuscaroras were given a new beginning under the wing of the Haudenosaunee confederacy. In the beginning, when the Creator was creating this world, it was darkness. To create light he used the sunflower, as the first light before the sun. In human lives, the woman is the first light because they are the life givers, so all the sunflowers on the red dress represent the lives of women, who have been stolen, just like our Tuscarora woman and children stolen from their villages. Any woman lost is detrimental to a child, clan family, and even community. When a woman is taken or murdered there isn’t just an impact on the present, but also the future. The handprints on the dress represent the shadows of all the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that won’t be born, following the women that were taken. The other sunflowers that aren’t covered by hand prints represent all the women, whether it’s Tuscarora, or any indigenous women, who survived, and her light wasn’t covered or put out. Our Tuscarora history and even MMIW is about survival against those who wish to exterminate us and extinguish our lights.
Pamela Jayne Holopainen has been missing since December 14, 2003. Pamela is Inuk and is a land claim beneficiary of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.
December 13, 2003 is the last time I spoke with my sister Pamela. She wanted me to babysit her two children who were 5 months old and 2 years old so her and her common-law could go out. I already had plans so she asked her common law’s sister to watch the children and she agreed. Pamela went to a house party in Timmins, Ontario with her common law. A little after midnight they were seen getting into an agreement at the party. Pamela left upset and her common-law followed her. This was the last anyone has seen or heard from Pamela. I tried to reach Pamela every day since then by either leaving voicemails or going to the house to see if she was home. No one returned my phone calls. There were no visible steps to or from the house in the snow.
The plants were still in the windows and the stroller outside. We had no clue where Pamela, her common law and her two children were. Christmas Day passed and we didn’t hear from Pamela. This was not like Pamela and we became concerned. I called Pamela’s landlord on December 26th asking if he had heard or seen from Pamela. The landlord said he hasn’t heard anyone in the apartment and that he hasn’t seen any of them. Our family thought perhaps Pamela, her common law and the kids decided to go see her common law’s family out of town. We figured they were all together and that we would hear from them soon.
New Year’s Eve comes and my mother and I decide to go play bingo that evening. We happen to see Pamela’s common law’s sister at the bingo hall and ask her if she has seen Pamela. The common law’s sister responds confused asking why we haven’t heard that Pamela left her brother. I then asked where the children were, she said she left them with her brother. My mother and I went to the police station to report my sister missing right away that night. The police officer on duty told us not to worry and that she was probably out drinking and will be back in a few days. Not knowing what else to do, my mother and I leave the police station discouraged and without answers.
We try looking for her ourselves by contacting any friends we know of and driving around with posters of her. Nine days pass and finally the police put up a missing persons ad of Pam. A few more weeks pass and the police ask my mother and I to come in. We go in, the officer sits us down in a room and tells us that they think Pamela went to Hamilton to be a prostitute as this is what her common law told them and start showing us nude photos of Pamela.
My mother and I never believed that. We were disgusted at such a suggestion as this was out of Pamela’s character. Pamela was a loving mother who enjoyed providing for her children and being with them. Pamela’s children were her world. There was no way she was leaving those babies. We express this to the officer and leave.
The police have done a few searches afterward however it was way too late and now we live without closure. Our mother passed away December 31, 2007 at the age of 45 years old. Four years exactly from the day we reported Pamela missing. The police have done absolutely nothing since.
Leona Skye-Grandmond is an Indigenous artists of Ojibwa/Mohawk decent residing in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Leona Skye has been highly awarded as a 2021 Niagara Falls Arts and Culture Wall of Fame Inductee, an Allister Yonge Endowment Fund recipient, and has been recognized for her works within the Indigenous communities and the region with Anti-Human trafficking and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.
Her art can be seen at the St. Catharines Ministry Building in the form of an elaborate 6-foot hand drum, Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario, and can be found all over the world from Switzerland, New Zealand, France, Japan, and all over her home-based Turtle Island.
With a great love for her traditional roots, Leona fearlessly creates works directly related to issues concerning her people and heritage through a vast array of images. With an emotional attachment to each piece, she attempts to bring forward the truths surrounding Indigenous people through the beauty of art.
About their dress:
I am mother, I was mother - I am not here anymore. In memory of Cheyenne Santana Marie Fox, a young mother whose life was cruelly taken.
My dress has a belly to represent motherhood. The dress has small handprints reaching for their mother that provides a safe place to guide and protect their kin. We must acknowledge the mother standing there but mother not being there. The paint dripping down represents the tears cried, the emptiness and sorrow. The dress is bright and bold, much like Cheyenne, symbolizing the mother’s light and strength. She was simple, bold, and a bright light. When people see the mother is missing I want them to know it is not their fault she’s gone. I don't want them to be angry, I want them to understand that sometimes it is out of our hands and out of our control.
Honoring Cheyenne Santana Marie Fox, spirit name Kundekkwe from Wikwemikong Indian Reserve.
Taken to the spirit world: April 23, 2013
Cheyenne Santana Marie Fox, 20, was the proud mother of a five-year-old son and a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont. Her father described her as someone who was kind and approachable.
Giinew Kwe (Ojibway, Eagle Clan)
Instructed in many art mediums by her adoptive mother, the late, but well-known Niagara Artist, Audrey Bernice Shimizu, Jill Lunn paints about trauma, healing, Indigenous issues and about her personal history as a survivor of the 60’s scoop and child abuse. Trained in visual arts and music from an early age, Jill is a multi-talented artist. She is a painter, photographer, pianist and violinist. While her favorite medium is acrylic paint on canvas, Jill lets her artistic expressions emerge through sculpture, multi-media collage and photography. Jill’s original pieces hang in private collections across Canada, as well as in agencies and businesses within the Niagara, London and Hamilton Regions.
Acrylics on Canvas
The Mohawk Indian ResidentIal School Aka; The Mush Hole, was the longest operating residential school. My late biological father (Fred King) was taken there as a child and changed forever by the cruelty.
In Canada; Images of orange dresses and red shirts hung upon the cross represents an awareness to all the Missing and Murdered Children and Women through our history.
The garments in this piece are risen before both the uncovered and still too be uncovered graves the children and MMIW.
Bricks in the dress honour the ancestors imprisoned within the brick walls of the Mush Hole. Yellow in the dress reflects the traditions people.
Yellow wheat represents the missing children of the prairies
Blue flowers not only balance the painting, they also represent a pretty foreground hiding a dark truth.
Red Handprint acknowledges Kamloops. The uncovering and rising of 215 hidden graves, which gave rise to the now global awareness of schools’ resembling death camps for generations of indigenous children.
Gold honours knot between the Millennium Scoop children and current in care. Crown illuminates the Church’s and Children’s Aid Societies
A fractured history and understanding is demonstrated with the cracking.
Grandmother Moon watches and knows.
About Cindy: I was born and raised in St Catharines I have 3 younger brothers I moved to Calgary with my now husband at the age 21. Ashley was born in Calgary in 1983. And this was the first best day of my life. In 1984 we moved back to St Catharines in 1984 to be closer to family. In 1986 the second best day of my life my youngest Amanda was born. While their dad worked away from home we married in 1990 and the girls were in the wedding.
Honoring Ashley Simpson
Ashley was Born on November 15th 1983. She was every mothers dream child - with an unforgettable smile and an adventurous spirit. A great big sister, wonderful cousin, and always put her family first. She grew up learning to fish, hike, and love to dance. Close with her family, she was always sharing her gifts with her nieces and nephews.
In summer she would help her father at a Lodge in Huntsville, ON and in the winter she worked at Buffalo Inn on Pink Mountain BC. On Saturday
April 30th ,2016 friends and family had not heard from her, and had filed a missing persons report with Salmon Arm RCMP. That Monday, my youngest daughter Amanada and her friend had driven out to BC, but were advised to wait in the event that Ashley had hitchhiked back home to Ontario.
John ( Ashley’s dad) and Ashley worked with a lot of people that met in Salmon Arm during the first few days. John flew out on Wednesday to start the search. But there was no sign of her. Those first 10 days were the hardest, waiting to hear anything and praying like you never prayed before the emotional toll starts as soon as you report the one you love is missing as never goes away. The financial toll is next. You can’t sleep or eat properly so many things go through your mind. And when people with good intentions say they understand what you're going through you want to scream there is no possible way unless they have been down the same path. So much of your life changes although you try hard not to let it happen because you still have family that depends on you.
But you get to the point your only concern is getting your daughter home where she belongs, even when you know she will never walk through the door. And trying to explain to Ashley’s nieces why she hasn't been found (they were told Ashley was lost in the woods while hiking) what do you tell 5,6, and 9 year old girls that have been waiting for their aunt to come home.I asked my oldest granddaughter why she didn't smile or laugh anymore and she told me she didn't have a reason to smile or laugh anymore. I have met a lot of people that knew Ashley briefly and they always said they remember her smile and they way she made them feel like she knew them for years.
On November 26.2021 the RCMP found Ashleys remains. Ashley's father, youngest sister and cousin had the privilege of going to BC and bringing her home. Since the initial search in April 2016, the search for Ashley continued every year in BC until she was finally brought home in January of 2022. Ashleys service in March of 2022, which devastated our family as we came to the realization that this was Ashley's final journey and had to let go of the hope we had that she would be walking through the door.
There were people at the service who met Ashley only a few times but she had an impact on them. A girl she went to primary school with brought in a picture of Ashley and said she had the same smile back then as she did in the pictures we were showing.
The chapter of finding Ashley and bringing her home is closed, however the next chapter is finding Justice for Ashley. We are waiting for the trial to start to make sure our Ashley gets Justice. No one has the right to take anyone's life!
Fallon is Red River Métis and a child survivor, advocate and speaker for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+. Fallon testified in the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, sharing her story of loss and trauma. Later Fallon joined The National Family Advisory Circle, where she worked closely with other MMIWG2SLGBTQQIA+ family members and the Commissioners for the National Inquiry. Fallon continues to share her family’s story in hopes of bringing change & awareness across Turtle Island.
I dedicate this Red Dress to my Father, Maurice Paul and my younger nine-year-old self and to the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA+ and men.
At nine, my father was murdered by a man he had known his entire life. This man was my mother's stalker, and he stole both my parents from me.
My father was a proud Red River Métis man. He was once the Southwest St.Eustache Division president for the Manitoba Metis Federation. My father instilled in me at a very young age to be proud to be Red River Métis.
My daughter, Ever's First Communion Dress is the dress I used for my piece. I grew up Catholic, as did my father. Still, since I started my healing journey, it has become very apparent that the religion I once followed was not by choice, nor was it for my father or any of my Indigenous ancestors. With the recent truths about Residential Schools FINALLY revealed, I've abandoned the religion in which I held a lot of trust.
The dress is covered in red dye to mimic the blood thousands of children shed due to the Catholic School system. I lost a piece of my true identity due to the Catholic Church.
Cascading down the dress are pages from the 231 Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, 2SLGBTQQIA+. In 2017 I testified and shared my family’s story at the Inquiry. Following the Inquiry in 2019 I joined the National Family Advisory Circle. These Calls for Justice come directly from the survivors and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA+.
The bottom of the dress has soil from my home community, St.Eustache, Manitoba. This is the place my soul calls home. This soil is the land from which my ancestors, my father, and I come. "Growing" from this soil are wheat pieces. Golden wheat fields surround my community and forever remind me of the home of the Métis Nation.
Lastly, draped across the dress is the Métis Sash. A beautiful piece of the Métis Nations' history that we still wear today.
While my father is no longer here, I am still here. That once nine-year-old girl who witnessed her parents brutally murdered never stopped fighting and has reclaimed her Power & Place as an Indigenous woman.
Nicole Joy-Fraser (Dene Zaa, Nehiyaw, Métis, Euro-Settler) is an award-winning Niagara based performing artist who has been storytelling for stage and screen across Turtle Island and beyond. She has collaborated with many celebrated companies such as The Stratford Festival, The Shaw, Mirvish, Factory, Tarragon, Soulpepper, Native Earth, The Blyth Festival, Carousel Players, The Charlottetown Festival, Nightwood, Talk is Free, Soundstreams, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, CBC, CBS, BBC and Telefilm. Nicole is also a bear clan member and helper in the community and supporting each other through healing and the arts continues to be a passion of hers. She has only recently been birthing hand drum songs and is forever grateful to the Healers, Elders, Community and Family that have been guiding her on this beautiful path. Kinânaskomitin ~ All My Relations
About Sisters in Spirit - an original song:
This song was birthed from HOPE, Birthed from LOVE, Birthed from JOY. It is meant as a gift to the women, to the families, to the two Spirits, to all the ones we have been grieving and those to come. It is to remind them that we are standing for them, that we want them to dance again, and that this song will allow them to stand up and rise again and for us to remember them dancing with that fire, the fire in their souls and to the families that grieve their loved ones who have been lost, can move through those tears, move through that medicine and remember that we have our songs, our drums, our beautiful healing dresses and our ceremonies. This is the Sisters in Spirit Song.
24 years old Cayuga Turtle clan from Six Nations. Currently living in St. Catherine’s working at the Niagara Regional Native Centre as the Life Long Care Coordinator. Jingle Dress dancer and hand drum singer. Co-Founder of Ham N Scone, MMIWG activist and leader of Strong Water Jrs.
About their dress:
Two years before my Spirit made the journey to this human existence, my family suffered the loss of my aunt, Paula Joy Martin.
After years of enduring unspeakable violence at the hands of her husband, Paula finally found the courage to leave.
Paula was a mother of one, a daughter, aunt, sister, niece. She hid in a hotel room for three days. When her husband finally found her, he stabbed her seventeen times, breaking the blade of the knife off in her body. She took her last breath on April 21, 1996.
I was born April 13, 1998. I often wonder about the amount of hurt that my family experienced in the years before my birth. How could a family go from such tremendous loss, to moments of happiness. And how is it that this ebb and flow of such heavy emotions are so normalized within Indigenous communities?
Maybe society does not realize the impact MMIWGT2S actually has on our People?
Maybe they think that these incidents are random, and that it’s actually not a pandemic.
And I might be inclined to hear you out, to have you convince me that Indigenous women aren’t being murdered or going missing at alarming rates.
But then my sister went missing.
My own sister!
I can’t even properly describe the amount of panic, stress, anxiety and heart break my family experienced during my sister's disappearance
The fact that the police couldn’t help due to their own “policies and regulations”, my frustrations grew knowing that if this was THEIR relative, they would’ve done everything in their power to make sure she was safe.
Is it because we are an Indigenous family that we are being pushed to the back burner?
Like she doesn’t matter?
Like Paula didn’t matter??
Like I don’t matter???!!!?!
This dress represents the story of my family.
Our pain. Our fear. Our frustration.
And for my voice to finally be heard.
I will not stop until I can feel safe to be me, an Indigenous Woman!”
Carrissa Gracey is a Registered Early Childhood Educator Designated at Port Weller Public School with the District School Board of Niagara. She is a graduate of the Early Childhood Education Program from Niagara College with over 25 years of experience. She has a love for learning, educating and having fun in the outdoors. Carrissa introduces her students to Indigenous teachings and ways to work towards reconciliation. Carrissa is a ranger for the David Suzuki foundations Butterflyway project, grower of the Port Weller Public School garden in partnership with Plant a Seed See What Grows Foundation and The Peanut Mill. Carrissa is a member of the 101 Deweguns Collective, a group of 13 individuals working on reconciliation in support of the Gord Downie, Chanie Wenjack Foundation and Gord's call for all "to do something". With a passion for nature and the outdoors Carrissa is learning and growing her traditional Mohawk Indigenous Culture and building community connections. She resides in St.Catharines with her two children and husband.
About their dress:
The red dress is a representation of three lost lives. The life of a child and teenager and an adult -The feathers are for the peace I hope they are all feeling. A red ribbon for MMIWG, a green ribbon for missing children, and a purple ribbon for Ashley's army. The
butterflies represent the youthfulness and freedom the girls now have. The dragonflies remind us of the good memories and that the spirits are with us. The black hand is a symbol that has come to represent the huge rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in North America
Marissa Irene Whalen. July 27, 2009 -July 29, 2011
Kristen Dawn French May 10, 1976 - April 19, 1992
Ashley Theresa Marie Simpson 1983 - 2016
Darrell Doxtdator is a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation of the Six Nations Confederacy. He grew up on the Haudenosaunee territory of the Grand River.
Darrell earned his Hon. B.A. (Political Science) from McMaster University (1986) and his LL.B. from Osgoode Hall (1989). On his Call to the Bar (1991), he refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. Instead, he re-affirmed his commitment to Mother Earth. After considerable debate, the LSUC agreed to make that Oath optional. Darrell continues to strive to be a social activist. In his efforts to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”, Darrell finds that writing, speaking out and singing karaoke are effective instruments in achieving these objective.
Cut Flowers - poem
Cut flowers are messengers
Carnations say friendship; roses say more
Cut flowers may look lovely
But Cut flowers will grow no more
Cut flowers fade too quickly
Cut flowers lose their bloom
Cut flowers cannot continue
When They are cut down too soon.
Cut flowers in a bouquet
Flickering candles in the snow
Convey pained messages
Pain we cannot let go
Cut flowers as silent messengers
Cut flowers left at the door
While cut flowers may look lovely
Cut flowers can grow no more
Darrell Doxtdator © 2019
About the Cut Flowers Poem:
Some life events are so overwhelming that words are insufficient Reaching the mind requires intelligence. Reaching the heart requires compassion. Reaching both hearts and minds requires a careful balance of both intelligence and compassion. The ongoing murders of Indigenous Peoples must stop. Lives tragically impacted by generations of racism (both overt and systemic) remain under-recognized. Public displays of grief and outrage focus attention. Cut flowers are laid after tragic events. After these public displays of sympathy and grief are removed, action is required. Without public pressure, change never occurs. With a constant reminder, stopping the ongoing murders may finally take place.
Kendall (Kenny) Lee Lewis
Born Oct 21, 1954 Pasadena, CA.
Growing up in a house in Sacramento, CA. full of swing music and musical instruments, Kenny started playing ukulele at 8 years old, clarinet at 9, and acoustic guitar at 11. The English Invasion happened in 1965 and he switched to electric guitar. He borrowed a guitar and amp in 1966 and began teaching himself psychedelic blues songs he heard on pirate radio KSAN coming out of the San Francisco Bay Area. By the time he was 15 he was playing for paid performances with his high school band both on guitar and bass. In college at 17 he studied jazz, learned to read music, play the flute and trombone for two semesters. Moving back to Los Angeles in 1973 to become a session musician, he took off on the road at 18 playing guitar and singing with a “California Lounge Band”. Performing at steakhouses all across the United States he eventually ended up playing bass in 1976 with his future wife, Diane Steinberg-Lewis, who introduced him to professional songwriting and the LA studio scene. After three record deals with bands, he eventually provided three co-written songs for multi-platinum Steve Miller Band Abracadabra album and toured with Miller from 1982-1987. He then rejoined the band in 1993 and has been with the SMB for over 40 years. The Steve Miller Band was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2017 he self-published his first Fantasy/Sci-Fi novel, “Skeleton Dolls” in hopes of pursuing a career as a novelist. Kenny’s debut as a fiction writer has garnered enthusiastic reviews on Amazon where it is currently selling. The Steve Miller Band just completed two years of touring 2017-2018 with Peter Frampton as opening act to sell-out crowds all over North America. In 2020 Kenny hooked up with Native American writers Linda McKenzie and Gen Huitt to co-produce and play on the Youtube video “Missing” which is currently nominated for NAMMY. The Steve Miller Band continues to perform post Covid including the Tunnel to Towers Never Forget 911 Benefit in 2021 and summer tour of 2022. Kenny now resides in San Luis Obispo, Ca. with his musician/songwriter/actress wife Diane Steinberg-Lewis.
Why this exhibit matters to him:
As a young impressionable fledgling musician growing up in suburbs of the sixties, I was of course a huge Jimi Hendrix disciple. When I heard the lyrics to his song “Castles Made of Sand” on the Axis Bold as Love album, I was overcome with emotion upon hearing the plight of “the little Indian boy who was about to sing his first war song [tomorrow] but was killed in his sleep that night.” Of course we don’t know who killed him or why but I was nevertheless filled with anger and remorse over his plight and wanted to know more about native peoples and their struggle.
Around this same time my mother told me a family legacy story about how her ancestors were from the Mohawk tribe and how I was related to Theyendanegea Joseph Brant. As years passed I met some native people who I told this story to and they encouraged me to seek out my native ‘one drop’ of blood that burned inside me.
Eventually, this led me to the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario at Otsweken and I began my quest to find out why I was so deeply connected to this story and how it was a part of my personality.
I began to also visit other reservations inside the United States and met many tribal members who mentored me and shared their experiences and struggles in what they called “Indian Country.”
When I first heard of the issue of missing and murdered indigenous people, it seemed like many of the stories I had heard on the news about all missing and murdered people in crime stories and mysteries. But then I started looking closer. I live in the town where college student Kristin Smart disappeared in 1996 and was never found. This story happened over 25 years ago. It is an internationally known story that still continues to this day and law enforcement is still trying to unravel the case.
However, when I began to read about missing indigenous people, particularly the females, hardly any press or manhunts or detective work was being done to follow up on those disappearances whether occurring inside reserves or reservations or not. The cases were given a short term of attention then abandoned. And if a body was found, the same situation occurred. Leads were pursued, evidence was collected if available, but very little time was delegated into solving those crimes and bringing a killer or killers to justice.
The issue of missing and murdered indigenous women is what this event is all about. It’s not a very popular or pleasant subject matter but it asks a very important question. Why are some cases of disappearance given so much attention and delegation of time and manpower while others are often ignored and forgotten?
And when a body is found after a murder has occurred, why is it that the same paradox happens when the time delegated to the manpower of detectives inside law enforcement is given more to other cases than others? Who makes these decisions? Where are the lawyers who might come forth to help family members find out what happened to their loved ones and bring murders to justice?
Unfortunately, I believe those answers weigh on subjects like social hierarchy, financial status, tribal sovereignty laws and yes, racial profiling. Conservatives will cry foul at that last inclusion but I know better. Just look at the statistics. Kristin Smart was a white blond female of high social profiling and a student at a prestigious college Cal Poly in my hometown. The amount of press and attention her case has attracted has lasted over 25 years! But that shouldn’t really matter right? Yeah right.
You can see where I am heading with this and it’s not pretty. This is a litmus test of our international society and how we as people are tested morally. Are other atrocities occurring throughout the world where women are trapped or kidnapped and disappear? Of course. This is not an exclusive problem only for native peoples here in North America, but statistics show that more indigenous women go missing and are murdered with less time or manpower delegated to solving those cases from law enforcement than for other races of people.
Here are some statistics:
- A preliminary study by Canadian police found that indigenous women — 4 percent of Canada's female population — made up nearly 25 percent of its female homicide victims in 2012.
- A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime, including 56.1 percent who have experienced sexual violence.
- In the year leading up to the study, 39.8 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women had experienced violence, including 14.4 percent who had experienced sexual violence.
- Overall, more than 1.5 million American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime.
Families have complained that the failure to properly investigate MMIW cases is based upon racial discrimination against Indian women. In many cases, the remains are cremated before a full investigation can occur, at times without the family's consent.
A red hand over the mouth has become the symbol of a growing movement, the MMIW movement. It stands for all the missing sisters whose voices are not heard. It stands for the silence of the media and law enforcement in the midst of this crisis.
Armed with a unique blend of modern country, blues, Americana, and pop . . . singer-songwriter Linda Mckenzie is at her best when she is revealing her most intimate life experiences via lyrics and music. Born in New Orleans and spending part of her life in Montana before relocating to Nashville, Linda has proven that success in the music business can come in many forms. Not only has her voice been heard on national radio for companies like National Car Rentals and Sheridan Hotels, she is a founding member of the Colorado Songwriters Association, a staff writer for Addagirl Music (Nashville), former songwriter & demo singer for Nashville's "Southern Writers Group" (pitching music to artists like Randy Travis, Reba McIntyre and others), and received an artist production deal with Harold Shedd (producer of Alabama, Shania Twain, Toby Keith and others). In Linda's early arrival in Nashville, her music was produced by Jerry Carrigan, a Nashville Record Producer and famed drummer who was part of the original Muscle Shoals Rythm Section. Having a record producer who played with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, just to mention a few, can't hurt a girl's music tracks!
Linda's first album, entitled Along The Way, dropped in 2016 and features eleven tracks. One of them, "A Son With A Gun", is a heartfelt song Linda wrote about her son serving in the military. Other songs on the album explore themes and messages to which many can relate: finding silver linings in relationships gone badly, figuring out how many toads a girl needs to kiss before meeting the "one", and learning how to apologize when you know you are wrong. The CD was produced by Kenny Royster (who worked Luke Combs) at Direct Image Recording Studio in Nashville. Linda's Along The Way album is currently available for digital purchase on Linda's Website at www.LindaMckenzieMusic.com (under tab "My Music") and streams on music platforms worldwide (Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Itunes and others).
Linda is as diverse off the stage as she is on it. A cancer survivor once given only 6 months to live, she now gives much of herself to helping others. She is known for supporting other musical artists by hosting house concerts to introduce those artists to potential new fan bases. As a former bed-and-breakfast owner in Lebanon, Tennessee, Linda has also hosted a cluster of indie artists, showcasing their talents in her 1831 pre-civil war era home. As a Realtor (by trade) Linda enjoys writing original material for varied businesses and non-profit organizations like "Habitat for Humanity", where she is an advocate. Travel? Yes, absolutely. Linda enjoys learning about travel destinations all over the world, and currently travels for music gigs and house concerts across the country.
Award-winning musician, Tonemah, is Kiowa, Comanche and Tuscarora, he has recording 10 award winning cdsCDs, of which, include his well known hits single “Pow Wow Snag” and “Rezzylicious”. His songs are filled with, thought provoking metaphors, and are sharp with emotion and humor that makes his music easy to relate to. He has won and been nominated numerous times for “Best Folk Recording,” and “Best Male Artist”, “Songwriter of the year”, “Artist of the Year”, “Best Rock Album” by the Native American Music Awards, Indian Summer Music Awards and First Americans in the Arts, and for “Best International Artist” by the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Awards. His CD “Welcome to Your Rainy Day,” was called a Masterpiece by Whispering Wind Magazine.
Tonemah’s musical influence came to him as a young boy sitting in the back seat of his parent’s station wagon listening to “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Today, he is a singer/songwriter in the purest sense and his music combines the energy of rock, the intelligence of folk and the heart of country that creates a musical niche he calls “Native Americana.”
He has also appeared in theater, several films and television shows including “Nashville”, “Sliver of a full moon”, and “The Cherokee Word for Water.” And written a book called “Spray your swamp cooler."
Tonemah informs his songs through experiences and relationships he has made along his journey. His organic storytelling style that has become his trademark. Tonemah's life experiences of growing up on, and off, reservations coupled with his professional undertakings have given Tonemah a truly unique perspective that he brings to his songwriting.
Of his concerts Tonemah says, “Its an opportunity to create a community for a brief time, to create a shared experience through story and song.”