Volunteers preparing for the Walking With Our Sisters installation at Thunder Bay Art Gallery are finding a sense of community and healing.

The commemorative art installation is comprised of more than 1,700 moccasin vamps (tops) created and donated to honour the unfinished lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In the entrance to the gallery, Gerald Hynes gently rips cedar branches into hand-sized pieces to be placed underneath the vamps. Hynes is originally from Newfoundland, but he has an Anishnaabe wife and said he wanted to support her by volunteering here.

Gerald Hynes

Gerald Hynes tears cedar into small pieces to be laid under the moccasin vamps. He says cedar is a cleansing medicine in Anishinaabe culture. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"I've always been interested in helping in any way I can," he said. "Only through doing will you get the opportunity to gain insight into the culture."

'Everything is done in ceremony'

A bright red cloth covers the floor inside the gallery as the boxes of vamps are gently unpacked. Each pair is individually wrapped in tissue. Volunteers wear white gloves to handle them.

"Everything is done in ceremony," Kara Louttit said. "You can just feel it when you enter in the room. It feels very powerful being here and all of the energy every volunteer is putting forth, it's palpable, you can feel the love and care."

Louttit recently moved back to Thunder Bay and has been involved in the months of preparations to host the installation. She said the work is helping with her healing journey after the death of her sister.

Keifer Sutch (l) Mike Berdusco

Lakehead University students Keifer Sutch and Mike Berdusco say they're learning a lot about respect and kindness from their interaction with other volunteers. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"Her death was labelled a suicide very quickly [but] there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered," Louttit said. "I miss her every day and this is a way for me to grieve."

'It shows us how we should act together'

Lakehead University students Keifer Sutch and Mike Berdusco were impressed with the warm welcome they received when they showed up to get in some mandatory volunteer hours for one of their classes.

Both said they're learning a lot about the tragedy of missing and murdered women, and other important lessons through their interactions with other volunteers.

"It shows us how we should act together in a community," Sutch said. "That's what I've learned is just how welcoming and respectful we should be towards one another."