The ReClaim project connects women, girls and Two-Spirit people to the land, to the sacred teachings and to one another. The mission of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – finding the truth, honouring the truth, and giving life to the truth — is realized within this national project, which aims to re-assert presence and power on the land itself as a way of reclaiming the sacred feminine, promoting safety and wellness, and transforming the narrative around Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. It creates opportunities for families, women and youth to come together to reconnect to the matrilineal knowledge and teachings of sacred Indigenous sites across Turtle Island.
Organized by renowned Métis artist Jaime Black, this program will be available at various sites nationally that are designated ‘sacred sites’ based on traditional knowledge and teachings. Sacred Sites have been under attack in recent years and are frequent sites of desecration; as such, these workshops will not only provide an opportunity for sharing and learning, but will in a tangible way, re-assert the presence of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people on the land. The hope is that this program will inspire other, similar actions that will persist beyond the life of the National Inquiry itself, and will represent a new way of asserting the importance – and of calling forth – the relatives who no longer walk among us, and the sacred place they hold in community and in ceremony.
Jaime Black is a multidisciplinary artist of mixed Anishinaabe and European descent and creator of the Red Dress Projects. Black’s art practice engages in themes of memory, identity, place and resistance and is grounded in an understanding of the body and the land as sources of cultural and spiritual knowledge.
ReClaim @ The Forks
For centuries we have gathered where the rivers meet, and this land remembers us, remembers the drum, the heartbeat, the song, remembers the women who gathered with their families, harvested clay by the riverbank and formed the vessels. Sitting here listening to the stories of the Elders, forming clay figures, we see the women who gathered on this land thousands of years ago, we see them reflected in ourselves.
The first ReClaim gathering at the Forks was a day of connecting, to ourselves and to each other through story and art making, pulling the past into the present and imagining, forming, shaping a new future.
Participants gathered around the fire to listen to the oral history of the forks through the storytelling of Elder Clarence Nepinak, whose family has a long history tied to the site. Elder Nepinak spoke of his family’s travels, their dreams and of the spirits of the ancestors that still inhabit the land where the two rivers meet.
In the afternoon we came together in the tipi to acknowledge the missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls. Palms full of tobacco, a participant led us to the memorial for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with a drum song, and we put our prayers down together.
We returned to the circle grounded in why we were here, why we were gathering, we are here to remember. Not only to remember the pain but also to remember our power, our agency as women, our strong connection to this land.
We worked with red clay, with earth, not only knowing that connection to the land in our minds, but really feeling it, working with it, working with our hands in a kind of mutual healing. We formed human figures, figures of women and girls, goddess figures, calling in the strength, courage and power of all the circles of women that have gathered at this place.
My little son is there, Josef, he is serious about fire keeping and in awe of this special and important gathering that his mama is holding. I can tell he feels the weight of it. I can tell it will change him.
Later we lay our clay figures as gifts at the MMIWG memorial and sing ourselves down to the water leaving our offerings to the river, to its slow power, to its mysteries.
My boy ties a piece of red cloth to a stick and in our silence, all the others do the same. In that moment, we become warriors, women walking together with staffs tied with red. Someone suggests that we cross the bridge to spirit island, a place where ceremony has been held for centuries, that we plant the sticks in the ground there as a promise that we will continue to stand and to fight for justice for women and girls.
A tour boat goes by as we are placing our sticks along the bank of the river, strips of bright red cloth against the grey of the day. They watch us and I think, for a moment they actually see us, they see us standing together.
a coming together
a picking up
where we left off
they moved the skulls of the buffalo
but we still remember
the way home
impressions in clay
a sacred figure
the power of creation
calling in the ancestors
we rise and fall
together together together
a poem by Jaime Black