A commemorative piece of art in honour of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) of P.E.I. was unveiled Thursday at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
"The painting depicts 10 people who have had people they've lost — loved ones, family members — and each of them has something that reminds them ... or is a tribute to those they've lost," said Bronson Jacque, the Inuit artist who created the piece.
"I really wanted the painting to show the human side of it all — to show the pain of the loss, to show that they're strong and resilient and they support each other."
The P.E.I.'s Aboriginal Women's Association (AWA) reached out to Jacque about the project in January. He was given pictures of the women in the painting and listened to their life stories.
He spent five months creating the piece, which is on an eight-by-eight-foot canvas. It barely fit his apartment.
"It's by far the largest and most important project that I've worked on to date."
'I see their strength'
Patricia Voisey, the Aboriginal Women's Association coordinator for the project, said it was a difficult decision to have art honouring Indigenous women at the Confederation Centre — and she had to answer some tough questions.
"You know, 'Where are we going to display this, alongside the Fathers of Confederation?' And I said, 'Yes.'"
The women in the painting, she said, are a symbol for Indigenous women who have overcome the ills of colonization.
"I totally see them dismantling everything that colonization has built," she said.
"I've worked with them since November of 2019, I've come to know them, and I see their strength, I see their resilience, I see their fight for justice — not only for their own families, but for Indigenous women and girls everywhere."
'A disposable part of society'
Voisey spoke to the crowd before the painting was unveiled. She said Jacque "captured the essence of each individual" in the painting, calling it inspirational.
"I look at that portrait and I see the love, I see the fight for justice, I see culture and strength, and it makes me grateful to be a part of a community that they're a part of," she said.
"I know we're building safer communities because of the struggles that they've been through."
Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould called the painting very touching.
"You can see the facial expressions, the stern, the look that the artist captured. It shows the plight of First Nations communities and the women," Gould said.
"Whether it be their stories or their actual life, they (Indigenous women) have been a disposable part of society in Canada, and this is a reflection of that. It's about time that it gets memorialized and given a voice, and the silence is broken."
'The reality of a loved one'
AWA president Matilda Ramjattan said the painting symbolizes the resilience of Indigenous women.
Each woman depicted in the painting was asked to pose with something that pays tribute to their family member.
"One of the participants was holding a red balloon, and what that represented to her was her sister's favourite song was 99 Red Balloons," she said.
"That's just one of the subjects that expressed something that was real to them, that brought the reality of a loved one."
Ramjattan said would like to see the project continue to grow.
"I think what would be a follow-up to this would be really to have their little story in their own voices, to explain what they wanted to portray."
'Healing needs to happen'
The final MMIWG report was released in 2019 following a national inquiry. The report detailed testimony from well over 2,000 Canadians and 231 calls to action for government officials, social services and institutions.
"I don't think that enough has been done, but I know that we are on the map," Ramjattan said.
"We are part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Advisory Group, which we are able to feed into what it is that we want to see in terms of the calls to justice."
Ramjattan hopes to continue support groups for Indigenous women and the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
"I know that healing still needs to happen."