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Red Amautiit exhibit at Winnipeg Art Gallery commemorates missing and murdered Inuit women and girls

The project came after the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Several Inuit women made amautiit to showcase at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The exhibit launched on Oct. 21 and runs until Nov. 7. Entrance is free for Inuit

A woman stands next to two red amautiit, a tradditional Inuit women's parka, at an art gallery.
The Red Amautiit project on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The exhibit launched on Oct. 21 and runs until Nov. 7. (Manitoba Inuit Association/Facebook)

The Manitoba Inuit Association launched a "Red Amautiit" exhibition recently in Winnipeg.

The project came after the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Several Inuit women made amautiit to showcase at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Gayle Gruben, who works for the Manitoba Inuit Association (MIA) and was the project manager, said though she couldn't attend the event due to illness, she did watch it virtually. 

"And it was spectacular," she said. "The speakers … commended us on what we have done and what we were able to do for our Inuit who were impacted by missing and murdered women and girls."

The amauti is a traditional Inuit women's parka used for carrying infants. The design of the amauti differs across Inuit Nunangat, with some using different colours and embellishments. The "Red Amauti" has become a symbol of remembrance of the Inuit women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people who have been lost to violence.

The opening of the exhibition was on the evening of Oct. 21 at the gallery's Qaumajuq section. Gruben said her organization invited Inuit in the community along with dignitaries that supported them through the project. The exhibition runs until Nov. 7. Entry is free for Inuit.

Gruben said the exhibition was sort of an "end" component of the project.

The start of it came when the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls came to Manitoba in 2017 for family hearings. She said families had "urgently appealed" to MIA for support for family members. In response, MIA created a gathering place, which provided outreach, trauma-informed counselling, translation and cultural services, referrals, advocacy, traditional healing and other supports.

A portrait of a woman outdoors at night, holding a poster reading "In honour of my mom, Sarah Ovayuak."
Gayle Gruben holds a poster reading "In honour of my mom, Sarah Ovayuak." Gruben works for the Manitoba Inuit Association as director of missing Inuit children of residential schools. (Submitted by Gayle Gruben)

Through that engagement came a women's sewing group in Winnipeg, Gruben said, which consisted of families and friends who were impacted by the MMIWG. The workshops provided a traditional way to grieve, Gruben said.

"So, as women experience and take part in their culture through Inuit sewing practices, they begin to feel safe and comfortable enough to speak about their experiences of losing their loved ones," she said.

She said much of the funding for the project came from the federal government's Women and Gender Equality Canada branch.

Though the Red Amautiit project is done, Gruben is still working to identify children who went to residential schools in Manitoba, and is starting a new role for MIA as the director of missing Inuit children of residential schools, a new program for the organization. 

She'll be helping reach out to groups like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the University of Manitoba and the Hudson's Bay company archives for possible information on Inuit children who may have attended any of the 18 former residential schools in Manitoba. 

"So we're just waiting for agreements from various archival areas and information holders so that we may be able to start researching and creating a database of children who may have not made it home or may have perished," she said.

Then, they'll be working with families to get direction on how to proceed — for example, whether it's repatriation or commemoration. 

"We want to ensure that no child is forgotten," Gruben said. "And, if they didn't make it home, that it's important for us to work with the families to have something for them to have closure."

With files from Eli Qaqqasiq-Taqtu

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