Petra Turcotte is collecting the stories of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women that cannot easily be put into words.
She’s curates a growing archive of paintings, letters, poems, songs -- even socks -- to accompany the testimony from friends and family of victims at the ongoing national inquiry.
Turcotte, the inquiry’s senior archivist, wants to see items like a patch-work quilt donated in Edmonton remain in the public eye long after the final testimony. Its squares bear the names of missing and murdered women.
“You can just look at one name and realize that is a mom, that was a sister, that was a grandmother,” she told CTV News. “We can never forget that this happened.”
Art is the medium of choice for many who have been impacted by a death or disappearance; it helps them share their feelings, Turcotte says.
Some of the donors send videos describing the stories behind their items. The tone of the art, and the accompanying explanations, have been wide-ranging.
“We have seen dark and light. It depends in what stage the artist is in, I think, when they create the art,” Turcotte said. “Some are in the beginning of just telling their truth, and some are at the stage of the healing part of their journey.”
One woman from northern Quebec said children in her community were taken from Indigenous families. Many died or were never seen again. She donated a pair of orange knitted socks in honour of her son, who died at 10 months old.
“(They are) always glad to donate,” Turcotte said. “Of course, they have sadness in their heart. They are usually donating on behalf of somebody. It’s usually somebody within their own family or somebody close to their heart.”
Students in British Columbia contributed a song about the highway of tears, a notorious 720-kilometre stretch of road between Prince Rupert and Prince George where dozens of women have disappeared or been killed.
The collection is expected to be made available online, much like the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s collection.
Turcotte, who is not of Indigenous heritage, said the archive will eventually be run by an Indigenous advisory circle. She hopes the items will eventually become part of a travelling educational exhibit on the treatment of Indigenous women in Canada.
“When the inquiry is over, I think it is really important for this nation to remember what happened here,” Turcotte said. “We need to learn from this. We need to do better than this.”
With a report from CTV’s Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon