'This feels right to be here': Moccasin tops on Batoche trail symbolize lost Indigenous women and girls
Red cloth leading down to waters at Batoche chosen for importance to Metis history
A multi-year artistic movement commemorating the loss of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people across Canada is coming to an end at Batoche.
"I'm just incredibly honoured and happy and sad and overwhelmed. This feels right to be here," said Kara Louttit, an Ottawa member of Walking With Our Sisters, a national collective of women who work to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The art consists of moccasin tops that have been laid on top of a red strip of cloth several hundred metres long and winding its way down to the south Saskatchewan River.
Some are intricately beaded, others embroidered, stitched or have words written on them.
The unfinished moccasins represent the unfinished lives of more than a thousand people from Indigenous communities in Canada who have gone missing over the past 30 years.
"I'm very moved by the amount of love and beadwork that has gone into them, and the sewing, the stitches," said Christi Belcourt, who spearheaded the art commemoration with Walking with Our Sisters.
Two of the moccasins on the trail hold a spot for Louttit's sister, who died in North Bay, ON in 2007. The rest were put together during workshops or sent in from people across the country.
The past five years have been a journey through grief and healing for Louttit as her group toured the art piece around Canada for public showings.
"My life has changed so much since becoming a part of this and it feels like it's coming full circle for me to end it here in Batoche," she said.
Cultural ceremonies were a large part of the prelude to seeing the commemorative art. People smudged before they were able to view it, and were only able to walk on one side of the cloth at a time.
Where the cloth stops at the river are fire keepers who are tending to a fire that will burn until the instalment is taken away on Sunday.
This week marks the first time the cloth and moccasin tops have ever been displayed outdoors.
Since this is the last stop for the commemorative art, they wanted to lay it out on a path that holds a sense of place.
To do that, a group of Metis women who have a close connection to the branches of the Saskatchewan River, called the Metis River Women Collective, has spent the past year specially picking the location at Batoche.
The part of the Carlton Trail they selected is a former red river cart trail leading down to the water, said University of Saskatchewan history professor, Cheryl Troupe.
"The river means life," Cindy Gaudet, another member of the collective.
It was also the site of the Metis women's camp during the Riel Resistance. Around 1885, women, children and the elderly used the camp to tend to the sick, feed their people and hide out in caves to seek refuge, Troupe said.
She said it is hard to hear and think about the Indigenous women from both this area and across Saskatchewan who have gone missing or been murdered in the years since then.
"At the same time, it's so important that we remember them and that we do think about them despite how hard it is, and think about their families … and make space for those families to sit and reflect and be supported. And I hope that that's what this exhibit will do for them," Troupe said.
The event site has been set up as a camp for people to enjoy each other's company, or to sit and grieve lost loved ones.
Hundreds of people have already showed up and will be filtering out to the site until the camp ends on Sunday.
The moccasin tops will either be returned by mail to people who request them back, or they will be burned at a sacred fire at Batoche later this month.