Healing through art and culture will be front and centre when the Manitoba Inuit Association’s Red Amautiit project pays a visit to each Kivalliq community in March and April.

Established in 2008, the Manitoba Inuit Association is the representative organization for Inuit living in Manitoba.

Association executive-director Rachel Dutton said the genesis of the project came about due to the efforts of a community of Inuit women the association has been working with in Winnipeg during the past couple of years.

The Red Amautiit project manager Gayle Gruben stands next to an amautiit of her creation in the summer of 2019. The Red Amautiit project will be visiting each Kivalliq community in the next few months. Photo courtesy of Manitoba Inuit Association

She said the community of Inuit women and girls they’re working with have all been deeply impacted by Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in their family.

“This is new work for our organization in reaching-out to these particular families and their loved ones,” said Dutton.

“So we were hosting some traditional Inuit sewing circles this past winter to bring the women and their family members together to create a community of support amongst them, and they decided what they wanted to do was sew their version of the Red Dress, which is the Red Amautiit.

“The Inuk seamstress who helped them sew the Red Amautiit, Gale Gruben, came-up from the Inuvialuit region (Inuvialuit Nunangit Sannaiqtuaq) to help and she is now our Red Amautiit project manager.”

Dutton said it was a profound experience to see the Inuit women come together, create the amautiit and share their stories.

She said it was decided they would love to offer the experience to other women, girls and families affected by MMIWG, if funding could be found to finance the project.

That funding was ultimately provided by the MMIWG Commemoration Fund through the Government of Canada’s Department of Women and Gender Equality.

“We were granted national-level funding, nearly $500,000, to bring this initiative to 13 Inuit communities, which will include every community in the Kivalliq,” said Dutton.

“Gale (Gruben) and our Inuit family support worker, Janet Kanayok, will travel to each community to host the sewing groups for three-or-four-days at a time.

“We’re expecting to see 13 red amautiit, that will look very different, completed during the next 18 months.

“We’ll also be bringing a representative from each family that participated in the project down to Winnipeg for a community feast to commemorate their MMIWG.”

Dutton said the Manitoba Inuit Association will be contacting a number of the country’s larger museums, such as the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which opens its Inuit Art Centre this coming fall, about the project.

She said the association hopes to have either temporary or permanent exhibits of the Red Amautiit project at the museums to make space for Inuit stories of MMIWG.

“So, that’s kind of the big plan at this point.

“It wasn’t hatched-up in a boardroom. It was something that was really organic and just happen here in the Inuit community of Winnipeg.

“And it’s such a helpful tool of healing, that we really want to share it with other communities.”

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Darrell Greer

Darrell Greer is Editor of Kivalliq News