Putting a face to the number

Four Directions helps shed light on the 600 missing Aboriginal women through doll making

The cornhusk dolls represent the ‘facelessness’ of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
The cornhusk dolls represent the ‘facelessness’ of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
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It’s doll making with a message.

I spent my Monday morning crafting a cornhusk doll at the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre. It went way beyond your average arts and crafts session.

The faceless doll in my hands represented one of the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.

“The general public doesn’t know who these women are, so it speaks to them being faceless,” Vanessa McCourt, one of the Centre’s five staff members, said. “No two dolls are the same, just like the 600 women — no two women are the same.”

McCourt took part in organizing the upcoming Sisters in Spirit event. Communities across Canada will be honouring these women, who represent 10 per cent of the total number of female homicides in Canada, with a vigil.

Kingston’s neighbouring reserve, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, has teamed up with the Queen’s community to put together the dolls.

This year’s planning committee includes members from Four Directions, Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, Amnesty International and Kingston Interval House, McCourt said.

They pick a theme each year that is representative of women’s rights. Last year’s was skirts, which were later donated to local shelters.

The dolls, to be displayed at the vigil, will be constructed with felt, the fabric that was used after the contact era, known as the period of time after colonization.

My doll, however, was made with the original cornhusk material.

The Centre is collecting 18 dolls that represent the 18 undocumented missing Aboriginal women in Canada right now, while 582 of them have been reported.

As I braided, folded and cut the soaked cornhusks, Ashley Maracle, another staff member at the Centre, explained the story and significance of the doll.

In Iroquois culture, one of the three “sustainers of life” was corn. The corn spirit had a beautiful face and was sent by the Creator to keep the children happy. After being continuously complimented on her beauty, she became vain and lost sight of her purpose and duties.

As she was walking over to the next village to play with the children, she stopped to admire her reflection in the creek and a giant screech owl swooped down to snatch away her reflection.

“It’s a reminder to always be mindful and thankful for what we have, but to never be vain about it,” Janice Hill, the Four Directions director, said.

Friday’s vigil will be a reminder of this message and will raise awareness of missing women.

“There have been calls for an inquiry into the murdered and missing women but so far that’s been denied,” Hill said. “[The Prime Minister’s] office is not supportive of an inquiry.”

Hill not only wants to see Aboriginal issues raised at the federal level, but also would like to see these issues addressed and discussed among youth.

“One of our biggest issues is self-identification [among Aboriginal students], not just at Queen’s but at other universities and colleges,” Hill said. “Less than one per cent self-identify [on campus].”

In partnership with the Queen’s Native Student Association, there are currently talks of commissioning a monument representing the land currently inhabited by the University, which is meant to encourage students to be more engaged with Aboriginal issues on campus.

The Sisters in Spirit vigil will take place on Friday, Oct. 4 in MacDonald Park from 5 to 7 p.m.

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