Moccasin tops honour missing, slain women in new art exhibit

Hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada and the United States are being remembered in a new travelling art exhibit featuring decorated moccasin tops.

Walking With Our Sisters exhibit in Winnipeg as part of 7-year North American tour

Hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women are being remembered in Walking With Our Sisters, a travelling art exhibit of beaded moccasin tops that has launched in Winnipeg. 1:44

Hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada and the United States are being remembered in a new travelling art exhibit featuring decorated moccasin tops.

The Walking With Our Sisters exhibit opened Friday at the Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery in Winnipeg, as part of a seven-year tour across North America.

The installation consists of more than 1,700 pairs of donated moccasin tops — also known as vamps, tongues or uppers — decorated with beads, moose hair tufts, porcupine quills, embroidery and more.

More than 1,700 moccasin tops, also known as vamps, are on display at the Urban Shaman Gallery in Winnipeg for the Walking with our Sisters exhibit. (Caroline Barghout/CBC)
Some were made by children, scrawled with words such as "love" and "hope,"  while others showed intricately beaded pictures of a victim.

Métis artist Christi Belcourt came up with the idea to pay tribute to more than 800 indigenous women and girls who have been reported missing or murdered in Canada over the last 20 years.

Among the more than 1,200 artists who donated moccasin tops was Sherry Farrell Racette, who crafted a vamp in honour of 31-year-old Tanya Nepinak, who went missing in Winnipeg in September 2011.

Farrell Racette said she did not know Nepinak or her family personally, but she attended a vigil in the woman's honour and was moved by an image of a butterfly that appeared as people spoke.

"Their words and the sight of that butterfly dancing around as they spoke really moved me and inspired me," she said.

The moccasin tops are deliberately not sewn into moccasins to reflect the unfinished lives of so many women, according to organizers.

Visitors are asked to take off their shoes before walking on paths of cloth that run alongside the tops.

"In the whole way that we approach it, in the way that the space is cleansed and treated for a while, this space becomes like a lodge," said Farrell Racette.

Family members of missing and murdered Manitoba women were given a private showing on Friday.

"We really want the families to know that, you know, this is about them. This is their time to come and maybe have … a little bit closure or just a little bit of healing," said Daina Warren, the gallery's director.

The exhibit will be at the Urban Shaman gallery until April 12.

It is scheduled to make stops in more than 30 locations across Canada and the United States, with organizers currently booking dates into 2019.

With files from The Canadian Press