Inspired by and carried by ‘Walking With Our Sisters’, community conversations in Red Deer are addressing some major social issues.
Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) is a travelling commemorative installation that is a way to honour and recognize the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in North America. The installation began as an art project to honour the lost women, and has grown into what will be a six-year installation by its end.
Recently, a community conversation was held around the topic of youth and their role in creating change in the future.
“The focus of this particular community conversation was youth, but it was more about how we as a community support youth in order to begin creating support networks – basically, a different kind of society where we look out for one another rather than turning away and not wanting to get involved,” said Sheila Bannerman, of the Red Deer Walking With Our Sisters group.
“We are supporting youth to form strong bonds – that’s part of what happens at these conversations. Some very strong bonds are being formed between very different types of people and very different communities. There is a growing understanding of people’s needs within the community for support and respect.”
These conversations are intimate, open experiences where members of the community share how the missing and murdered women in the nation affect them. In Red Deer, a number of people have said that they have lost children, sisters, cousins and mothers, and so are desperate for change.
The role of youth in driving that change lies in awareness and connecting to others in the community.
“We’d like to raise awareness that there are serious social issues around why the memorial installation is happening. We want the young people to understand that they have an impact, and it doesn’t need to be like this going forward. They are the future, and we want them to feel strong and supported as they grow into that future,” Bannerman said.
Through these conversations, a platform is available for people to share ideas and connect to each other to pledge to keep the community safe, and to pledge support to those dealing with loss.
As the commemorative installation draws nearer to its time in Red Deer, more conversations will happen. Bannerman said that hopefully after the installation leaves here, these conversations will continue and the support for Walking With Our Sisters will grow.
She said that based on the amount of people who have attended the conversations and shared experiences of loss in the community, this is a local issue that people are dealing with.
“You read about the memorial installation, or see it on facebook, and a portion of our community thinks of it as something that happens elsewhere. We hear a lot of press about Winnipeg, and we tend to think, it’s not Red Deer. It’s not an issue here. However, this is really brought up over and over again that this is an issue here,” Bannerman said.
“When you realize that this is also a memorial for women in our own community that creates a very deep emotional response that probably wouldn’t be there otherwise.”
She said that something that has been identified through the conversations is that First Nations and Aboriginal women in Red Deer’s community do not feel safe. Parents, men and women alike, are afraid for their daughters, their sisters, and other loved ones.
“The question that a lot of women in our community are kind of thinking is, will I be next? They may not say it aloud, but you hear it and see it,” she said.
“However, I think that with these conversations, we are building into something that could last. There are women in the community who feel the need to be protected. At the memorial installation, it won’t be obvious so much that this is an issue we’re dealing with in our community, but at the conversations that is very apparent.”