MMIWG monument unveiling completes two years of collaboration

The members of the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Women's Council unveiled the MMIWG monument on Prince Albert's riverbank on Wednesday afternoon. -- Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald

After two years of work, the PAGC unveiled the new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Monument on Prince Albert’s riverbank Wednesday afternoon. The project was a collaborative effort spearheaded by the PAGC Women’s Council to help bring more awareness to the cause.

Women’s Council chairperson Shirley Henderson was pleased to see the work finally completed.

“It means a lot,” she said. “We are just so delighted and so happy to have this for our families to come to, and have a place for us to pray and worship. They can smudge. There is going to be a smudge bowl here and at night, we are going to put lights on it so it shines at night, so if they want to come here at night it will be well lit up.”

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte also said that the monument means a lot.

“It’s a long time for such a monument,” Hardlotte said. “All through the years—losing so many people and then building a monument like this, how beautiful it is—it means it’s really significant. It’s very important, (and) heartbreaking in some ways.”

Although it was heartbreaking, Hardlotte said the monument was necessary. After the unveiling, Hardlotte couldn’t help but think about all the people who are still missing.

“There are so many of them, (and) not just in our area, but all over Saskatchewan and all over Canada,” he explained. “It’s not just for our members, and like one of the speakers said, it’s not just for the Indigenous people. It’s also for the general public. It’s an awareness. It’s an education for something.”

The monument was a collaborative effort, and both Henderson and Hardlotte thought that was an important aspect.

“Everybody came together and that’s what happens when there is unity,” Hardlotte said. “Governments, groups working together and coming together, that’s what happens.”

“Everybody worked together and it’s the same thing with our committee,” Henderson added. “The city was involved, the Friendship Centre, so we all worked together on this.”

An important symbolic part of the placement of the monument is that it faces north and is on the riverbank. Henderson said it was designed to that it looks like the eyes are peering back at you when you look at it.

The monument shows two feathers with faces on both sides, and depicts how this affects all generations from the infant to the adult. Sculptor Lionel Peyachew crafted the work from a design by James Smith Cree Nation artist Tristan Sanderson.

“You have to represent the four stages of life,” Peyachew said. “They have all been effected in some way starting from the infant to the child, to the adult and all the way right into the elder.”

This is the second monument that Peyachew has completed as he also was commissioned to work on the sculpture in front of the Police Station in Saskatoon.

“But every time I do this it seems to be a lot more emotional and means a lot more,” Peyachew said.

Hardlotte appreciated the work of Peyachew and Sanderson on the project.

“The artists did such a good they put a lot of thought into what they were creating,” he said.

During Hardlotte’s speech and other speeches, there were calls on all levels of government to continue to work on MMIWG. Hardlotte thanked the federal government for the work of the MMIWG Inquiry.

“But the work doesn’t end, I thank them for that but the work has to continue like today and the work has to continue into the future. But with something like this also with the provincial government, it’s everybody and of course the municipal government and the First Nations governments for the Prince Albert Grand Council, FSIN and First Nations governments themselves,” Hardlotte said.

During the speeches by FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear and Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne, there were calls for perpetrators to come forward and Hardlotte commended them.

“Every human being (has) a conscience,” Hardlotte said. “When we do things, we have that feeling—a guilty conscience. There is also karma when people do horrible things to other human beings and bad things come to them. I really believe in my faith, in my religion and also in my First Nations beliefs.”

“The perpetrators that are out there, step forward. Anybody that has any information like that, step forward. It is a sad thing what they have done, but pay your debt to society for what you have done,” he added.

Peyachew explained that the creation of the sculptures was a process of creating a clay sculpture and meeting the detail requirements before the clay is sent to a bronze foundry.

“The clay must have taken at least I would say two and a half months for each feather so roughly I would say six months all together to get the clay work done. From then, on after the clay work is done, the foundry takes over and does the bronze work,” Peyachew said.

Peyachew is from Red Pheasant First Nation but teaches at First Nations University of Canada and was humbled to take part in the project.

“It’s an honour to be able to give something to the people and especially to the relatives of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” he said. “They are still probably in a process of finding their loved one or even grieving after finding their loved one and still to this day some of them don’t even know where their loved ones are. They could be lost they could be taken away, they could be anywhere.”

The symbolic Smudge of the monument done by Elder Leonard Ermine and the prayer was done by the mother of the missing Happy Charles, Regina Poitras. The New Dawn Drum Group featuring her family was also part of the service.

Speakers included Henderson, Hardlotte, vice chief Chris Jobb and vice chief Joseph Tsannie. Metis Nation-Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum, Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, Montreal Lake Chief Joyce Naytowhow-McLeod, Peter Ballantyne Chief Karen Bird, FSIN vice chiefs Edward “Dutch’ Leratt, David Pratt and Heather Bear, Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne, Prince Albert Police Service Chief Jonathan Bergen and Prince Albert Indian and Metis Friendship Centre executive director Janet Carriere.

Following the unveiling, Tristan Durocher played “Amazing Grace” on the fiddle.

Hardlotte and Henderson thanked the large crowd for attending the unveiling.

“I thank everybody in the public for coming here. It was a nice crowd,” Hardlotte said.

“It’s great to see so many people come out and support us,” Henderson said