New Brunswick

Silhouettes honour 'silent witnesses' of violence

Geraldine Theresa Paul was beaten to death by her partner in March of 1981, and Rowena Mae Sharpe was beaten to death by her estranged husband in the same month in 2012. Both women lived on St. Mary’s First Nation.

Two life-sized cutouts of murdered women were unveiled to raise awareness against intimate partner violence

Kristen and Logan Sharpe unveil their mother's silhouette. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

They were murdered three decades apart, but have remarkably similar stories.

Geraldine Theresa Paul was beaten to death by her partner in March of 1981, and Rowena Mae Sharpe was beaten to death by her estranged husband in the same month in 2012. Both women lived on St. Mary's First Nation near Fredericton, New Brunswick.

On Sunday, two red, life-sized silhouettes of the women were unveiled, surrounded by their surviving children and siblings.

"It felt like I was standing next to her again," said Kristen Sharpe, who was 14 years old when her father killed her mother then himself.

The silhouettes of women who were murdered by their spouses or partners stand as a reminder that people must work to prevent intimate partner violence. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

"It was really overwhelming, the emotions I felt when I was lifting up the cloth," she said.

The new silhouettes were lined up beside 30 others, all with breast plates carrying descriptions of the women they represent, and how people should remember them. Some wore purple scarves, and one had a purple flower tucked between the hip and arm.

They are part of the Silent Witness Project, which rallies the community to make these life-sized cutouts of women who have been murdered by spouses or intimate acquaintances. Their goal is to commemorate, raise awareness and inspire action against intimate partner violence.

Cody Hatty performed a song she wrote about missing and murdered Indigenous women at the dedication ceremony. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

However Sunday's unveiling had the extra weight of addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls to action.

Only three of the 32 silhouettes represent Indigenous women. In order to be chosen for a silhouette, the intimate partner must have been convicted of the crime.

Stephanie Francis, the liaison for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, said having Indigenous silhouettes will open up a wider conversation.

Elder Imelda Perley offering a smudge to Geraldine Paul's daughter, who was 10 when Paul was murdered by her partner. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

"Often times we hear stories of people from mainstream populations, and so when we hear stories that have impacted other Aboriginal [people], there's a connection," she said.

"I think with our community participating in this it's going to create more awareness and understanding with the other 14 communities in our province, but also with the 600 and some communities across Canada."

Remembering happiness and fiddleheads

After lifting up the cloth covering her mother's silhouette, Sharpe hugged her brother Logan for a minute before returning to her seat at the theatre in Chief Harold Sappier Memorial Elementary School.

Siblings Kristen and Logan Sharpe unveiled the silhouette of their mother Rowena Sharpe, who was a victim of a murder suicide by her husband. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Logan Sharpe said when he was pulling up the cloth, he was in the moment, not thinking about anything in particular.

"It felt very sacred but I wasn't really contemplating anything … It felt very right to be there in that moment," he said.

The siblings remembered their mom as beautiful, friendly and always smiling.

"She was just really kind to everybody, she never judged anybody, she was always, always happy," Kristen Sharpe said.

Geraldine Paul's younger sister Mary Theresa Marshall is now 78, and she spoke at the unveiling.

She said she remembers her sister's cooking vividly, especially how she prepared fiddleheads.

"She loved to cook I guess. Yeah. And I loved her, I really loved her, I'll never have a sister like that again eh? I loved her so much," Marshall said.

Speaking for the silent

Francis said what these women have in common, aside from their Indigenous identity and their infectious smiles, is that their lives - and their voices - were taken away from them.

"Now through these silhouettes, we're able to speak for them," Francis said.

"And for Mik'maq and Maliseet people, when we speak of our loved ones who passed away, our ancestors, they're still here. So it's nice to see the silhouettes here that we can commemorate them and we have something to honour them with."

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton and Moncton. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca