Walking With Our Sisters takes another step

Leah MacDonald, left, and her aunt-by-marriage Kim Beaulieu agree that many people can benefit from the Walking With Our Sisters project and hope to see it tour as widely as possible. -- photo courtesy of Kim Beaulieu

Leah MacDonald, left, and her aunt-by-marriage Kim Beaulieu agree that many people can benefit from the Walking With Our Sisters project and hope to see it tour as widely as possible.
— photo courtesy of Kim Beaulieu

When Kim Beaulieu first heard of the Walking With Our Sisters project – in which women sew uppers to contribute to what will become a travelling exhibit in honour of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls across Canada – she thought it was a nice idea, but that she didn’t really have the time to participate.

“I didn’t want to submit uppers just because,” she told The Hub. “But the idea slowly grew on me. Then I thought of my nephew’s wife, whose mother was murdered, but it was ruled a suicide, and I just knew.”

Beaulieu made the decision to make a special pair of uppers to tell the story of her niece-by-marriage, Leah MacDonald, at the beginning of July. With some creative postmarking, she got them completed and sent to the project co-ordinators by the July 15 deadline.

Walking With Our Sisters grew fast. The original goal was to garner about 600 pairs of uppers to represent the more than 600 women and girls believed to have been victims of foul play or who simply remain unaccounted for in Canada. Organizers received over 1,000 pairs.

With costs for the travelling installation increasing as a result, the Auction for Action was created to help crowdsource funding for the exhibit. The online auction – nothing more formal than a Facebook group in which members post photos of items on the block and place bids – grew from nothing to 2,600 members in a week and had raised over $15,000 as of Aug. 11. Along with Walking With Our Sisters, the sales and donations from the 20-day auction will go to Families of Sisters in Spirit and Tears4Justice, sister groups sharing the goal of raising awareness for violence against Aboriginal women.

“They wanted uppers, not completed slippers, to represent the lives of those ladies that were also incomplete,” Beaulieu said. “And what better way to honour these women’s lives?”

Leah MacDonald said she felt her mother’s story had come full circle with its inclusion in the project. She died when MacDonald was 10, in Edmonton where she worked as a nurse. While her death was ruled a suicide at the time, MacDonald knew then, and remains convinced, her mother was murdered.

“I got ahold of the police report when I was 31 or 32,” said MacDonald, now mother to three children of her own. “It was one page and just felt really dismissive and condescending.”

After many years of working with detectives in Edmonton, MacDonald said the situation has undoubtedly improved for aboriginal women in that city and that police officers are far less likely to write off their deaths and disappearances than when she was young.

“This is probably the most touching thing ever,” MacDonald said of the treatment of her mother’s story. “The exhibit is starting out in Edmonton, and as that’s where my mother was murdered, it’s really empowering. This sort of awareness just snowballs and it’s time this issue was brought to light.”

MacDonald and Beaulieu plan to travel to Alberta together for the exhibit’s opening, but are both still in the process of deciding who else will make the trip. MacDonald would like to bring her children and have them experience a part of their own history she glossed over for many years, while Beaulieu hopes to bring a few of her new clients.

“I was just starting in this position when the Walking With Our Sisters project started rolling,” she said of her new job as co-ordinator of victim services on the Hay River Reserve. “It all just fits together. I think (seeing the exhibit) could really have an impact on some of these women who have been harmed by crime. It could show them they’re not alone and maybe give them some insight.”

— Sarah Ladik