Inuit women in the Manitoba Inuit Association’s Kativiik sewing circle created this red amauti as a symbol of missing and murdered Inuit women and girls earlier this year. Now the Red Amautiit project has been expanded to include 13 communities in Manitoba, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut. (Photo courtesy of the Red Amautiit project)

Sewing project honours Inuit missing and murdered women and girls

“We need a way to commemorate their lives”

By Jane George

Next week a group of Inuit women will gather in Winnipeg to remember missing and murdered Inuit women and girls as they design and sew a unique red amauti.

“Our goal is to work with the affected family members of these missing and murdered Inuit women and create an amauti,” said Gayle Gruben, the Manitoba Inuit Association’s Red Amautiit project officer. “We need a way to commemorate their lives.”

Creating the first red amauti during the association’s Kativiik Sewing Circle earlier this year proved to be a source of powerful healing for participants in that sewing circle, Gruben said.

Now, the larger Red Amautiit national project, supported by Women and Gender Equality Canada, aims to bring the same healing spirit to three communities in Manitoba, eight in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region and two in Nunatsiavut.

The project was among 105 projects approved for $13 million from Ottawa last June.

The approval of these projects followed the 2017 call from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for the federal government to create a commemoration fund.

Healing will form a large part of the Red Amautiit sewing project, Gruben said, because sewing together will allow women to share experiences and stories in an environment that’s accepting.

Gayle Gruben, now the Red Amautiit project officer, stands at the Forks in Winnipeg last June when Women and Gender Equality Canada announced funding for the Red Amautiit project. (Photo courtesy of Gayle Gruben)

Gruben said she hopes the amautiit will also help participants live with the memories that they have.

“We did lose somebody, but we have these beautiful memories,” she said.

The amauti is intended to symbolize the Inuit experience within the context of the “Red Dress Project.”

That art installation was developed in 2011 by Jaime Black, a Métis artist from Manitoba, who collected 600 red dresses for an “aesthetic response to the more than 1,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.”

Since then, the dresses have been on display in various locations across Canada and in the United States.

On Oct. 4, 2015, the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Black also asked women across Canada to display red dresses in their homes, businesses or public spaces.

Black has said that she chose the colour red after learning red is the only colour the spirits can see.

She has also suggested that red “relates to our lifeblood and that connection between all of us.”

The dresses are empty to symbolize the murdered and missing women who should be wearing them.

The first session of the Red Amautiit project takes place next week, from Nov. 25 to Nov. 27, at Unit 3, 1000 Notre-Dame St. in Winnipeg.

Gruben said she will leave it up to participants to design their amauti, although she will be there to assist them, as needed, and will supply a variety of patterns.

As for the final design of the amauti, “I will open it up to them as long as they have that theme with the red in it,” Gruben said.

If they can’t finish the amauti in three days, they can always come back to finish it, she said.

After the project wraps up in 2021, the goal is to bring the red amautiit together and display them, perhaps at the Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg or the Winnipeg Art Gallery, for a “grand celebration,” Gruben said.

Later the red amautiit can also travel to communities, she said.

For more information about the Red Amautiit Project, you can call 204 774 6848, ext. 215 or email gayle.gruben@manitobainuit.ca.

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