National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
“The scale and severity of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada constitutes a national human rights crisis.” (Amnesty International Call To Action Report, February 2014)
Silent Dreams, our latest exhibit, honours the lives of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and the struggles of all women in the West through time. The showpiece of this exhibit is an installation of beautiful dream catchers suspended gracefully in the Main Gallery. Designed and made by local women, the large dream catchers symbolize the ancestors who watch over us and the smaller ones, the loss of possibilities in the lives of these women – their roles as wives, mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers, friends – the passions they had, the dreams they aspired to.
The cultural tradition of making dream catchers is to protect the one who sleeps, by letting bad dreams through while catching the good dreams which then fall down the feathers and ribbons to the sleeping person below. Traditional knowledge and practices, such as the dream catcher, were valued female roles and responsibilities passed through generations by Indigenous women and are today being reignited to preserve culture, improve community wellness and ensure future generations develop a strong sense of identity and pride.
The exhibit also provides an historic context for the struggles and accomplishments of all women in the early settlement years of western Canada. It examines the changing role and influence of Indigenous women as white settler women became more prominent in Western society. The exhibit explores the struggles that white women faced as well, and the roles that all women shared as mothers, wives, housekeepers, sisters, daughters and aunts. This is not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ display, but a showcase of the shared experience of women and their realities. No matter the race, creed, rich or poor, women have all faced various challenges and expectations that affect them individually, and often as a whole. We hope to inspire debate and education as to the struggles that all women faced, but also how the greater presence of white women, and men, challenged traditional teachings, practices and family hierarchies of Indigenous women. Alberta celebrates this year, 100 years since women fought successfully for the right to vote but did you know that the Indigenous vote was not granted until 1965 in Alberta? Today, in 2016, the current commission on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls recognizes the continued gender inequality and racial discrimination faced today by many Indigenous women in Canada.
“If there is to be a redefinition of the female role, the change must take place in the thinking of both women and men.” (Ronald Lambert, sociologist, Waterloo University, 1971). Together as a society, we have the power to end gender inequality. The exhibit also highlights the positive work being accomplished through programs advocating an end to gender abuse. Indigenous and non-Indigenous men are standing up against violence towards women and children with programs like I Am A Kind Man and the grassroots movement called Moose Hide Campaign.
Silent Dreams has been a collaborative effort between the Museum, Sagitawa Friendship Society, the Peace River Women’s Shelter and the Sisters in Spirit Committee to explore women’s historical struggles for a voice to vote, a voice that is regarded as an equal, integral and valuable component of the social, cultural, health and economic well-being of our communities. We are optimistic that our visitors, men and women, will leave inspired to engage in the many current conversations in the news about the racial and gender discrimination faced by women still today and that those conversations will eventually contribute to positive social change.