Walking With Our Sisters is ceremony, it is art, and it is a memorial. 

And so far, only half of the way into the first year of a seven year tour, it has already had a profound spiritual impact on many.  That impact will continue as the exhibition journeys across Canada and into the United States.

Amy Briley

These vamps by Amy Briley are part of the Walking With Our Sisters exhibition. (Christi Belcourt)

1724 pairs of vamps were submitted from around the world — each pair representative of a missing or murdered indigenous woman or girl in Canada. 

When the original call was put out for submission of the vamps in 2012, the hope was to have 600 pairs – which was then the "official" number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.

However, this number likely did not accurately reflect what the statistical reality is, as we know in light of the most recent research by Maryanne Pearce, an Ottawa based researcher who has documented 824 cases. 

'For many, it seemed that the number of vamps was perhaps the many spirits of Indigenous women and girls who were calling out to be acknowledged, to be remembered, to be honoured and to feel loved.' - Tanya Kappo

But even then, most feel it is impossible to have a definitive number on indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or never found, as we know the number of 824 doesn’t even begin to address the unnamed girls or babies who were killed during the residential school horror, and prior. 

The number of vamps submitted was the first and strongest indication that Walking With Our Sisters would not be, and could not be, just an art installation. 

For many, it seemed that the number of vamps was perhaps the many spirits of Indigenous women and girls who were calling out to be acknowledged, to be remembered, to be honoured and to feel loved. 

Tanya Kappo working on WWOS exhibit

Tanya Kappo helps to set up a Walking With Our Sisters exhibit. (Tanya Kappo)

This strong sense from our sisters who were stolen from us, would continue to guide the actions of those of us along the way. 

From organizing exhibits, to donating to the efforts, to hosting events, to visiting the exhibits – the spirit remains strong. With this in mind, the ceremonial and sacred aspects of the installation are what makes this a transformational experience, and not just an art show.

It is easy to admire the stunning creativity of the vamps themselves, but it’s the spirit of the installation, as a collective, that calls to and reaches out to people. 

Following traditional protocols from Elders is key. The idea that everything is approached with gentleness, love and care is also paramount.

These are the cornerstones of the project, and the only way to properly create a memorial to honour and respect the lives of our missing sisters. 

How the installation is designed is undertaken knowing the vamps must be laid out in way that each pair represents an indigenous woman or girl who has gone missing or become murdered.

Cherie Marunde vamps

These floral beaded vamps were made by Cherie Marunde. Part of the the Walking With Our Sisters exhibition. (Christi Belcourt)

The space is prepared and the installation done by volunteers, much in the same way a ‘lodge’ is prepared for ceremony. 

While you are in the space, you will hear traditional songs being played. There were 50 songs submitted to be shared specially for Walking With Our Sisters. 

As you walk along the path, you will also be walking on sage or cedar. This is used underneath all of the fabric, including underneath where the vamps rest. This is done to create a safe spiritual space – such as that our ceremonies are.

'1724 pairs of vamps were submitted from around the world - each pair representative of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl in Canada. ' - Tanya Kappo

Tobacco is also available and offered to guests to use as a prayer for the women and girls, and their families. 

Eagle staffs stand tall, two of them. One is for missing women and girls – and the other is for murdered women and girls. Families, friends and loved ones are welcome to bring forth an eagle or a hawk feather, to hang on the staff in honour of their lost loved one. 

These are the foundational and ceremonial aspects of Walking With Our Sisters, that are critical and necessary to give life to the honour, love and remembrance of indigenous women and girls that have gone missing or become murdered in Canada. 

Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation for the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada and the USA. It opened in October, in Edmonton., and has travelled to Regina and Parry Sound. It will open in Winnipeg, at the Urban Shaman Gallery, in March.

Kappo was involved with the Walking With Sisters premier in Edmonton as the "Keeper" of the Vamps (the top portions of a pair of moccasins).