Winnipeg photography project gives voice to the women of North Point Douglas
9 women want to challenge the image of one of the city's most stigmatized neighbourhoods
Claudette Nault has spent over fifty years in North Point Douglas, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. She remembers going to dances at the community club, taking classes at the church, and being able to go to any number of houses if she happened to need something.
"My mom had three jobs to take care of us, so she wasn't around all the time," Nault tells CBC Arts. "But we could go to a neighbour's place and not worry about getting jumped."
The North Point Douglas of today is, for most, a much different place. Arguably one of the most stigmatized areas of Winnipeg, issues of safety — particularly for women — are paramount, and no one knows that more than the women who live there. Which is why The Voice From Point Douglas: A Community-Led PhotoVoice Project, a show opening this weekend, is so imperative. Presenting photographs exploring neighbourhood concerns and strengths through the lens of nine women in the community, it aims to give them a space to share their challenges while creating an opportunity to highlight the potential for positive change.
Emma Bonnemaison, a graduate student in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Manitoba and the project's coordinator, wanted to create a project that merged peace work with arts-based approaches to community development.
"I wanted to create a research project that was community led," Bonnemaison says. "In other words, the people that are most affected by the issues are the ones leading the research and art-making while also identifying solutions to community concerns. The project's main focus is identifying safety issues for women — physical, structural, spiritual, and emotional — as a way to ignite positive changes for women and contribute to processes of decolonization."
With support from the Manitoba Research Alliance, and in partnership with North Point Douglas Women's Centre, those involved with the project met weekly, incorporating Indigenous Medicine Wheel framework practices into each of their meetings.
"With the help of the project's co-facilitators and participants, we incorporated the medicine wheel framework into discussions, evaluations, and research surrounding safety of the individual, family, community, and nation," says Bonnemaison. "Each session began and ended in ceremony."
The incorporation of Indigenous teachings was key to the project, and helped further some participants' cultural engagement. For example, Aleesha Fiddler began connecting with her culture around three years ago, and this project has helped further her growth.
"Us women are the water carriers and the birth givers, and being with other women has meant a lot and has been amazing," Fiddler says. "I wish it could happen again."
Paula Ducharme feels similar. "I feel honoured to have sat in ceremony with these women," she says. "The strength-based approach wasn't focused on stigmas, but was focused on empowering strong women to move society forward in a good way."
Each of the women's photographs and accompanying narratives tell the story of their Point Douglas. Each is a vehicle for them to share their past, present, and hopes for the future.
Donna Rusnak's photos are very family-focused because of what was happening in her life when she took them. "Mine is about family because my dad was passing away at the time," she says.
Claudette Nault's photos highlight the North Point Douglas she sees now, which is different than one she grew up in — but that doesn't mean she has no hope. "Everyone says Point Douglas is bad, but it could be what it used to be if everyone got involved," she says.
The participants hope people will take away something from their art, and they see this as an opportunity to take away some of the stigma in the area.
"This is an opportunity for new perspective and a way for people to take action in a good way on something they perceive as negative," says Ducharme.
The Voice From Point Douglas: A Community-Led PhotoVoice Project. Opens Friday, July 15 7-9pm. Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery. 290 McDermont Avenue, Winnipeg. Runs until August 13.