Musical homage to MMIW to be filmed in Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island

Nashville's Crystal Shawanda is back on her home turf of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island this week to film a music video that bears a weighty social commentary.

Final scene to show women wearing red, gathered among the ruins of the Holy Cross Mission

Shawanda said her song was inspired by news items she kept seeing about another missing girl. (Linda Roy Areva Photography)
Country star Crystal Shawanda is coming home to Manitoulin Island to raise awareness of missing and murdered aboriginal women. She'll be there to shoot a video for the song "Pray, Sister, Pray". She spoke about the project with the CBC's Kate Rutherford. 6:27

Nashville's Crystal Shawanda is back on her home turf of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island this week to film a music video that bears a weighty social commentary.

Shawanda is hoping to draw on the work of visual artists who have already explored and focussed on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW).

There are the shocking red dresses by artist Jaime Black, symbolizing about 1,200 MMIW in Canada over 30years.

Also, many have seen the painstakingly beaded moccasin vamps that show solidarity among women by "walking with our sisters" by artist Christi Belcourt.

The Walking With Our Sisters installation consists of more than 1,700 pairs of donated moccasin tops — also known as vamps, tongues or uppers — decorated with beads, moose hair tufts, porcupine quills, embroidery and more. (Christi Belcourt)

'I had no idea this was your history'

Shawanda said her song was inspired by news items she kept seeing about another missing girl.

She used those real-life stories to tell the fictional story of a girl who was abducted.

"Hey sister did you hear, Billy Rose ain't never been found. Went missing on the fourth of June, family hasn't heard a sound," she writes in the lyrics to Pray Sister Pray.

"You know, some people say, 'what does praying do? Well, praying gives you hope and, you know, sometimes that's all that keeps you hanging on. You know, for the mother who lost her daughter, for the brother who lost his sister you know, or for the child who lost their mother." 

But beside healing, the goal of the song is also education. There are many who aren't aware of the staggering number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, especially south of the border, said Shawanda.

"The more people see [the video], the more people will say, 'oh, I had no idea this was going on'." she said.

"That's what happens to me a lot when I'm touring in America and I talk about aboriginal issues. So many times, I've heard people say, 'I had no idea this happened, or I had no idea this is your history.' So for me, I feel that's my constant mission, to raise awareness."

Shawanda chose her home community of Wikwemikong for her latest video Pray Sister Pray.

Manitoulin: 'A nice backdrop'

Shawanda chose her home community of Wikwemikong for the video shoot for a few reasons. One is her friendship with Joe Osawabine who is the artistic director of the theatre company, Debajehmujig.

This is his first music video, he said, but he has a well-defined idea of how it will come together. The final scene of the video will be shot in the ruins of the Holy Cross Mission residence.

"We've invited as many women of any age, shape and size, to come join us at the ruins ... to be part of a scene where all of the sisters are praying for each other." he said.

"I'd like to see a lot of the women wearing these red dresses, as that's become sort of a symbol of the missing and murdered women in the country."

He also wants to work in some of the beaded moccasin tops from artist Christi Belcourt's exhibit.

As for the late season dump of snow that has blanketed the region, it might work in his favour, he said. 

"It might make for a nice backdrop if it's not all melted by then." he said.

"The red dresses would certainly stand out, [as it would be uncomfortable], but you would endure that for a few minutes to leave a lasting legacy."