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Ontario Native Women’s Association launches new commemorative art project exhibition at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

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Anishinabek Nation Northern Superior Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Mel Hardy and some of the family and loved ones of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls posed beside the Grandmother Earth Dress during the launch of the Medicine Lines of Womanhood MMIWG Commemorative Art Project exhibition at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery on May 5.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY — The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) launched the Medicine Lines of Womanhood MMIWG Commemorative Art Project exhibition at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery on the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on May 5. ONWA’s goal for the project was to create a space of healing for those directly connected to the trauma of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and to bring awareness to MMIWG through stories and art pieces.

“I’ve had roles within social work and I’ve witnessed first hand the need for systemic change and the need to put forward a concerted effort towards ending this crisis,” says Anishinabek Nation Northern Superior Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Mel Hardy. “The Medicine Lines of Womanhood, which we are here for tonight, is such a meaningful way to commemorate the MMIWG and I am proud to be here to witness this unveiling. I know the work was done with much love and care and I know we are all excited to be here to see it.”

The Medicine Lines of Womanhood project encourages public education and awareness by acknowledging the loss and grief that families continue to endure and was intended to provide an opportunity for the family and loved ones of MMIWG to honour and share the story of their loved one through an art piece created using Indigenous arts-based healing approaches.

“Being a survivor of violence, recognizing why we do this work is to make sure that the little ones we can hear in this room don’t have to face violence,” says Cora McGuire-Cyrette, CEO at ONWA, noting that it was an honour to be in the space with the art pieces. “It’s safe for us to show up here tonight, it’s safe for us to have these conversations, it’s safe for us to walk this journey together, it’s safe for us to be able to drum, it’s safe for us to have our teachings, to have our bundle out, it’s safe for us to be in this space together, it’s safe for us to heal.”

Michele Solomon, community development manager at ONWA, says the Medicine Lines of Womanhood project was originally projected to run from September 2019-March 2021.

“We were intending to do this all in person, we had four cities we were going to do this work in across Ontario and we were able to get to three communities, Thunder Bay, Kenora, and Ottawa, and have an initial engagement with family members in those communities,” Solomon says. “As you all know, the [COVID-19] pandemic came along and there went our plans of doing this in-person.”

Solomon says they eventually decided to do the Medicine Lines of Womanhood project virtually and did a callout to people to join them online.

“While it wasn’t the vision we had, it certainly turned out to be a beautiful experience,” Solomon says. “When you get to go and see the pieces that were developed from this project, I know you will agree that you don’t always have to be in-person to create something beautiful.”

Solomon says the Medicine Lines of Womanhood MMIWG Commemorative Art Project exhibition also includes four videos that feature participants talking about their experience, art piece, and loved one, which were available for screening in the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s Community Room.

The Medicine Lines of Womanhood MMIWG Commemorative Art Project exhibition will also be hosted in Ottawa, Kenora, and Sioux Lookout in addition to the launch in Thunder Bay, which ran from May 5-14 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

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