Beading, painting, and healing characterize the creation of a quilt being made to honour the memories of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

The Ontario Native Women's Association in Thunder Bay, Ont., is hosting the event as part of their Sacred Tree program, an initiative focused on creating a healthier community.

About a dozen women were at the ONWA office last week to start work on  the quilt. They sat around the room at folding tables, with white cotton squares in front of them. Some women were beading, others were painting.

Tracey MacKinnon and Clara Quisses

Tracey MacKinnon (left) and Clara Quisses (right) making quilt squares to honour and support missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families. (Charnel Anderson/CBC)

Carrie Gouesh wasn't sure what her design would look like, but she wanted to do something relating to Indigenous culture, "like a medicine wheel or maybe something with a turtle," reflecting her spirit name "Turtle Woman".

Gouesh lost her sister in 2008. She says her sister spent most of her life on the streets, and "she was always struggling."

Making the quilt is "a chance for me to do some healing, and maybe reach out and touch her if she's out there somewhere," she said.

Participating in the collective, creative effort is helpful, she added.

"Anything that can bring people together, to talk, maybe to cry, to share some stories, and just to make this quilt together. I think it's wonderful, a beautiful thing to be part of. I'm really happy to be part of it," said Gouesh. 

Beading

Some women beaded, others painted their quilt squares. (Charnel Anderson/CBC)

Clara Quisses is another one of the quilt makers.

She said she hears a lot of sad stories from people who have experienced the loss of a family member — and she feels compelled to help them.

"I feel in my heart for them. They have to live that experience... it must be very difficult for them. So I show myself as a supporter, that I'm here," says Quisses.

Quisses has had her own share of difficult experiences, too. 

"I had a lot of issues, a lot of problems like residential school, sexual abuse, family dynamics, alcoholism, relationship violence and stuff like that," said Quisses. She also lost her son to suicide.

Painting

Several participants at the quilt-making event said they found it a healing experience.

As a result of those experiences Quisses has been on a personal healing journey for more than 10 years. She has an intimate understanding of grief, and healing. 

"The way that I understand when there's a loss, you know you go through the grief and then you heal from your grief," she said. "But then the mourning, it's a forever life time that you're going to live that loss, that memory... you carry on with what you're doing, but you will never forget. It will always be healing."

Quisses comes to these kind of events because of what she has been through. She wants to help others, and knows how to support them. 

"I know what it's like to be there," said Quisses.

Reaching out and offering your hand is a good way to show support, she said.

"I even tell them that 'I feel for you and I know what it's like, so don't feel alone, I'm here'," Quisses said.

The quilt-making continues every Thursday in August at the ONWA office in Thunder Bay.