News  On “Femmes, Mes Sœurs”

Nadine St-Louis Talks “Healing Trauma Through Art”

Every Wednesday, beginning on September 4 of this year, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women have gathered at the Ashukan Cultural Space to tell stories, sew, and heal from trauma. This meeting – the Femmes, Mes Sœurs workshop, organized by Sacred Fire Productions – is an opportunity for survivors of violence to share their experiences and seek support from one another, while creating art to raise awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Led by Melanie Morrison and Sedalia Fazio, participants join in a Mohawk prayer, recount how violence has affected them, and embroider an image symbolic of their trauma. In spring 2020, the works of embroidery will be sewn together into a piece called the Memory Quilt, which will be revealed at a march along with a book titled Women are Sisters. The book will feature photos of the embroidery, alongside explanations of the images these women chose to depict.

The workshop is the creation of Nadine St-Louis, the Executive Producer and founder of Sacred Fire Productions. In an interview with the Daily, St-Louis, who is herself a survivor of violence, has long wanted to create an opportunity for women to tell their stories; she asserts that storytelling is a powerful healing tool, both for the storyteller and their audience. By sharing their personal journeys, she said, women not only liberate themselves of the silence about gender-based violence which many are subjected to – they also end the isolation of navigating their traumatic experience, and build a sisterhood with other survivors.

“It’s first and foremost a healing project […] the idea behind this project was to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, and to come together as women of all nations and say, ‘break the silence,’” St-Louis said.

Quilting is a custom shared by women from cultures all over the world, according to St-Louis. She hopes that in the tradition of quilting, women can find solidarity with other survivors, regardless of their background. The activity of sewing takes on a metaphorical nature for St-Louis, as women are “sewn together” in expressing their stories and healing through art. Furthermore, the medium of quilting is a way of “rematriating” history, St-Louis told the Daily: “The quilt has always been in my head; instead of history, it would be her story.”

In spite of the pain that comes from sharing stories of violence, the workshop is intended to remind women of their strength and resilience. “Women are strong. Women are the backbones of their families, women are the backbones of society,” St-Louis stated. In breaking the silence which typically surrounds instances of gender-based violence, women can reclaim their stories of resilience and promote a dialogue in which Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – a topic that is often marginalized in contemporary culture – are the central concern. This reflects the mission of Sacred Fire Productions – to create visibility for Indigenous peoples in a contemporary context and to promote awareness of Indigenous issues, especially in an urban landscape like Montreal, where there is little exposure to traditional Indigenous culture. St-Louis attributes this ignorance about Indigenous peoples which she has encountered to a lack of opportunities for Indigenous cultures to be properly exhibited and appreciated: she stated that more than 85 per cent of the so-called “Indigenous items” sold today are made in China, and there’s little opportunity for modern Indigenous artists to enter the market.

The ultimate goal of the Femmes, Mes Sœurs project, according to St-Louis, is to educate the public on the impact that violence has on women, their families, and society as a whole. When asked what women can take away from the workshop, St-Louis replied firmly and without hesitation: “Empowerment. Solidarity. Being able to walk out of these workshops knowing that you’re making social difference, social change; you’re breaking the pattern for your children, for your neighbour, for your cousin.” In attending the workshop, women can also receive guidance on how to navigate their trauma from Melanie Morrison, one of the aforementioned leaders of the workshop. Morrison’s sister, Tiffany, was murdered in 2006; Morrison uses her painful experience recovering from grief to help others cope with their trauma.

What is shared in the workshop will remain confidential; St-Louis stresses that no names will be published in the Femmes, Mes Sœurs book. Nevertheless, the publication of the book as well as the presentation of the quilt is meant to bring awareness of gender-based violence to the general public, so women may anonymously share explanations of their embroidery if they choose to do so.

Ultimately, the workshop is an opportunity for individual women to find a sisterhood and cope with their traumatic experiences. As StLouis said, “It’s not a project for discovering art, but it’s a project for healing trauma through art.”

St-Louis invites women at McGill who have experienced violence to attend the Women are Sisters workshop. It takes place at the Ashukan Cultural Space, 431 Place Jacques-Cartier, every Wednesday from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. She would also like to emphasize once more that the workshop is confidential, to make women as comfortable as possible in sharing their stories. St-Louis can be contacted by email at nadine@productionsfeuxsacres.ca