Travelling exhibition paying tribute to missing, murdered Indigenous women makes final stop in Montreal

Missing or Forgotten, which opened on International Women’s Day at Ashukan Cultural Space, features the work of several Indigenous women.

Missing or Forgotten opens on International Women’s Day at Ashukan Cultural Space

Shawl of a Kukum, 2015 by Diane Blacksmith, features materials such as moose hide, beaded pearls with cotton string and birch. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

For Nadine St-Louis, marking International Women's Day means recognizing Indigenous women's leadership, as well as their hardships, trauma and resilience.

That includes raising awareness of the hundreds if not thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women through art. 

"Art is about storytelling, whether it is installation art, multimedia art, paintings, carvings. Every object, every artifact, every installation piece that is shown is the narrative," said St-Louis, the executive director of Montreal's Ashkuan Cultural Space.

"Art is very powerful. It's a platform that can reach any nation and language without using words."

Ashukan is the final stop of the travelling exhibition and cultural mediation kit project Missing or Forgotten: Akonessen, Zitya, Tina, Marie and the others. 

Nadine St-Louis is the founder and executive director of Montreal’s Ashkuan Cultural Space. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

A project of La Boîte Rouge Vif, the exhibition has spent the past two years touring Canada to raise awareness of the link between the disappearance of Indigenous women and the loss of traditional knowledge and skills.

"To launch it on International Women's Day is such a privilege because our women are the backbone of our communities," said St-Louis.

"Ending the exhibition at the Ashukan Cultural Space in the heart of Montreal — a space that is dedicated to resurgence of cultural identity — there is something very powerful about reclaiming those stories and asking people to come into our space to hear about them."

Curated by Huron-Wendat artist Sylvie Paré, the exhibition features work by several Indigenous women from or living in Quebec, including Abenaki craftswomen Lise Bibeau and Annette Nolett, Innu artists Mariette Manigouche and Diane Blacksmith, Anishinaabe artist Nadia Myre and Kanien'kehá:ka artist Hannah Claus.

Small Bundle and Mittens, 2015, by Mashteuiatsh craftswoman Mariette Manigouche. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

In her curator statement, Paré said when researching the exhibition she often found Indigenous women described generically in titles like "Indian Woman, Portrait of an Indian Woman, Young Indian Girl."

"As a result of not having known more about these women, these blank spaces wonderfully play their part, which is to constrain to a state of non-existence the monumental contribution of native women in the history of the Americas," she said in the statement.

"Let us remember that they are still here, they never ceased to exist."

Room of a missing young woman, 2017, is a collective work featured in the exhibition. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Marie-Ève Bordeleau, Indigenous affairs commissioner for the city of Montreal, was among the many delegates in attendance for the exhibition's opening on Friday. She is encouraging Montrealers to visit while it's on display throughout the month of March as an important act of reconciliation.

"It reminds us of the importance of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and that it does happen here in Montreal, it is very serious, and has to be at the heart of the reconciliation process."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.