In Honor of Our Sisters collects photographs and narratives from Indigenous UC Santa Cruz students about important Indigenous women in their lives be they family members, community figures, activists, or political leaders. This exhibition was inspired by the REDress public art project by Jaime Black that raises awareness about the staggering numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.
This exhibition is produced in collaboration with the American Indian Resource Center as part of their virtual event series, Seeking Justice for Our Sisters, dedicated to raising awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
I've had the privilege of having strong female presences in my life, including my two older sisters, my mom, and the women at the American Indian Resource Center. These women brought me up into the confident, compassionate person I am today, and I am grateful for it. Should something happen to one of us, we'd feel the pain collectively and do whatever we could to support. The same goes for the MMIWG movement. When one of us goes missing, it is a loss for all, and when our pleas for justice are ignored, it's an injustice towards us all. We do not need legislature or tasks forces to tell us we have value, but without persistent advocacy, we fear non-Natives will continue to forget us.
My mother was conceived from rape and then abandoned, left to die. My mother is the most loving person I know. She only carries love in her heart and a smile on her face. Who knew an Indigenous baby girl so full of love would be so threatening to the legacy of colonial violence and terror. They do not fear us, they fear what it would mean to love us. The world built to destroy Indigenous women will crumble. We are walking miracles descended from the first peoples, the magical peoples. In a Love Letter to Black & Brown Peoples, Irene McCalphin states:
You are magnificence even when you are not in motion. Thou art the Sun the Next World will rotate around
I miss you
I love you
I love us"
I think a lot about how special it is to be here, I am so happy to be here, I wish my sisters could be here too.
Ada Elaine Brown was a mother, sibling, a daughter, friend and grandchild. Her tribal affiliation was Tahltan First Nation in Telegraph Creek. Those close to her said she was deeply loved by everyone in her family, this includes her friends. On April 9th, 2001, her body was found in a hotel room in Prince George, she had passed away from subdural hemorrhage. Ada's body showed signs of abuse, both of her eyes were bruised when she was found, her death was classified as undetermined.Once her family was made aware of the ruling they were quick to point out that there had been reports of abuse in her relationship, they also said that there wasn’t much investigation done on this case. Her case was closed and the person who committed this horrible crime was never brought to justice, because of that her family will never have closure. This case is similar to others, MMIWG is much more than these crimes, it's honoring our sisters that left us too soon. Educating those around us via social media, newsletters, email subscriptions, etc. is how we will have their voices heard.
Who Will Look Out for Sky Woman?
“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it's finished; no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons.”
― Cheyenne Proverb
The Cheyenne are a matriarchal society. The women lead and guide us, feed and nourish us; they created us. My great grandma Nathel Kitty Bell Fisher Show (Mo’oheme’ehn’e - Elk Appears Woman) had 8 children, 24 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren, and 3 great, great grandchildren. I am one of her 44 great grandchildren so was my cousin Otissey.
Grandma Nathel passed away in 2020 due to COVID-19. This horrible disease has taken too many of our elders and knowledge holders and it took my great grandma away from my family too soon.
Grandma Nathel was preceded in death by her parents, her 2 sisters and my sweet cousin, Kayanna Otissey Gonzalez. Otissey was stolen from our family at the young age of 21 in 2019. My family is still seeking justice for her murder and trying to heal from the wounds of her passing. I can only hope that my great grandma Nathel and my cousin Otissey are together again.
Today, I am living in what is now known as Santa Cruz, the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. I live near Mission Santa Cruz where I take walks to and think of the Native people who once lived there. My picture is to honor the Indigenous women who were affected by the missions. I have not forgotten them.
Rest in Peace Great Grandma Nathel.
Rest in Peace Otissey.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls is an important issue in my life because I myself am a Native woman and many of my loved ones are also Native women. This violence against Indigenous women has been normalized since the beginning of colonization and continues to be. As a result this has affected the way Indigenous women operate in this world and ignites the fear of being the next MMIWG victim. I have a younger sister as well as countless younger cousins and I never want this to happen to them or any other Indigenous women.
The movement to bring awareness to the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folx is incredibly important. When I think of the Native women in my life, I want them to be able to live full, safe, and happy lives. I, myself, want to be able to live a full, safe, and happy life. Unfortunately, the persisting issue of MMIWG2S receives very little attention outside of Native communities. We cannot be the only ones to speak up about this because if so there will never be any real changes. As Sarah Deer states, "Rape is a fundamental result of colonialism, a history of violence reaching back centuries." In order to fully understand the issue at hand, learning about the violent history of settler colonialism is necessary to make these changes. Dismantling systems of power rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy is necessary. Returning land to Indigenous peoples is necessary. All of these issues are intricately tied to one another, and all must be worked towards simultaneously if we are going to end the violence against our Native sisters and heal our communities. Sending love and strength to all my relations. <3
Indigenous women are the backbone of our community. They are fierce leaders who carry with them the divine responsibility and honor of creating life and preserving knowledge and traditions for future generations. They hold us up when we’re feeling down and they continually always push us forward. Indigenous women teach us to be brave and strong, to honor our culture and carry ourselves with pride. They are selfless and kind and gentle. They play a role in everyone’s lives as sisters, moms, grandmothers, daughters, aunties, cousins, friends - most importantly, they are human beings whose lives are filled with promise and purpose.
Our red fabrics serve to raise awareness for our missing and murdered relatives. More than that, they are symbols of prayer - prayers for a safe return home for those missing and prayers for peace for those who have been taken from their families. For all that they do, for all that they are, Native women are entitled to protection of the highest degree. They represent everything we hold to be sacred, as they are sacred themselves. To my Native relatives, continue the fight for our missing and stolen sisters. Do not allow settler-colonial systems of “justice” to discourage you. To non-Native allies, take the time to educate yourselves and stand with Native people in our continuous efforts to bring justice to those we’ve lost and to protect those still with us. Native women and girls deserve more than to become a statistic. Protect them, respect them, honor them.
They say I grew up to look just like her
After 12 years, I’m used to it.
The pain in my relatives' faces when they see mine,
The look in their eyes like they’ve seen a ghost.
I know sometimes it’s difficult for those who were close to her to look at me.
Her eyes like mine
Our imperfect smile
A bittersweet reminder of the light she was
And the darkness she left behind.
Still, I’ll never resent these features she gave me
Her blood and DNA are the only pieces of her I have left.
I am remembering you Annie Pootoogook, an artist, like me. You were found dead near a shelter for abused women you were living in with your young daughter. You drowned in the Rideau River in Ottawa on September 19, 2016, your death was considered "suspicious." The police officer in charge said it was probably due to being drunk or on drugs because of your ethnicity. We know the truth.
Thank you for the drawings you left behind, drawings that share about the life you lived in the Inuit village where you grew up. Images that give us a glimpse of the world you knew and left too soon.
To all the beautiful, imperfect, precious women who were murdered or are missing, we surround you with love and light, today and always.
Rest in power Annie.
This exhibition is produced in collaboration with the American Indian Resource Center as part of their virtual event series, Seeking Justice for Our Sisters, dedicated to raising awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Please join us in attending the American Indian Resource Center's virtual event series.
Seeking Justice for Our Sisters
May 3–5, 2021
May 3, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. - AIRC Presentations about MMIWG (Register HERE)
May 4, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. - Searching for Justice: A Human Rights Investigation on Northern California MMIWG (Register HERE)
May 5, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. - A conversation with Jaime Black, creator of REDress Project (Register HERE)
Presented by the American Indian Resource Center at UC Santa Cruz
Sponsored by the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, Division of Student Affairs and Success, 88.1 KZSC, Human Rights Investigation Lab, Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE)