Sisters

My two little sisters are a blessing and a curse. I have memories of their births, though some of the details get a little confused. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night and getting carried out to our old chevy pick up truck but I don’t know if my other sister was there. We never went for rides in the middle of the night, only for Christmas Eve Mass, so an outing such as this was not forgotten. The other memory I have is driving to the hospital with my dad and our cat Dax, again I don’t know if my other sister was there. This memory I think is the most important because it shows how unimportant the birth of a sister was to my child mind. We had arrived at the hospital and my mom was lying in bed. She might have been holding my new-born baby sister, or perhaps it was my dad. Then my mom had opened up a drawer, took out a box of smarties and gave me the box of treats. I was so happy about those smarties, nothing else mattered, and that is all I can remember. As a mother I can reflect on my mom’s choices during that night in the hospital so long ago, and I now understand  that I was most certainly being bribed.

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They were so cute back in the ’80s.

Our birth order certainly shaped our personalities; we were your typical trio. As the first born I always had to set an example for my little sisters, and consequently am a little tightly wound up. The middle child, Lynette, had to negotiate within the complicated power relations of our family, and is always wheeling and dealing. The youngest, Bernette, watched her older sisters make mistakes, and now has the “I’ll show them all” attitude. (I still don’t know why my parents went with the “ette”s. I could have been a really good Annette)

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Lynette preparing for our youngest sister’s wedding.

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Bernette giving me the “WTF Amanda?” look.

My sons love hearing me tell stories about my sisters and I growing up, especially the ones where there is fighting involved. I try telling them about how we played with my-little-ponies or pretended to be mermaids in the ditches near the railway tracks, but they prefer to hear about the sister fights. They like to know that we were bad kids too. Like, what kind of young girl in a fit of anger would decide to throw an empty porcelain sheep-shaped Avon perfume bottle at her sister’s head? And what kind of girls would tie up their youngest sister to a chair and then shut off the lights and leave her in the basement? Yeah, my sons love hearing about that one.

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Me and my sisters.

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I see a resemblance between my boys and my sisters when they were kids.

Being the eldest I still feel responsible for my sisters. Sometimes I wonder if my eldest son feels this for his younger brother or not? He is growing up in a very different kind of family than the one that my sisters and I had to deal with. I am providing my boys with a safe and loving environment where they don’t need to protect each other in the home. Growing up I had to watch out for my sisters all the time – the drinking brought out the worst in the adults. My mom did her best to protect us but she wasn’t always there.

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Thanksgive’r tableau.

As adults, we still act like those little girls when we get together. We love to laugh at each other. We break off into pairs, and whisper about the other sister behind her back. We talk about ex boyfriends and poke at old wounds that only we know are there. No one can hurt us like we can. My middle sister recently found out that her partner of 10 years was cheating on her. Her grief is heartbreaking but soon enough she will be back out there wheeling and dealing. Her pain is short term and nothing like the scars that us sisters have inflicted on each other. Those scars are there for us to pick at and to remind us that we are always sisters. This year my youngest sister married her partner with whom she’s been with forever, and now they are finally talking about starting a family, just for me, so I can be an aunty. Hahaha. Perhaps they will start another generation of sisters.

 

Over these years we’ve pushed and pulled each other but we know that we are sisters. We are family and we will always stand by each others sides, no matter what.

-xox your big sis, Amanda Laliberte

 

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27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.

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Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.

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There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.

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The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.

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The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.

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This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.

The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now.  Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing.  They have never stopped marching, or organizing.

Now,  27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

the ocean gives and the ocean takes away

A couple of years ago I received an artist grant from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Initially I was going to do a documentary photo series on Indigenous women who have overcome trauma and abuse. I had to think some more about this series. About how I could show to others how strong, amazing and inspiring these women are. I had to avoid labelling these women as victims because that they are not. We are survivors. And trauma and abuse can come in many forms, so how was I going to photograph that?

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I decided not to do a documentary photo series because I didn’t want the images to feel like outsiders gazing into the private lives of these women. It wasn’t going to be something you’d see in a National Geographic magazine. There is enough voyeurism in the media, so I went with formal portraits, which I have to admit isn’t my strongest way to shoot. My photo classmates (such as Shawna McLeod) will remember me in not providing much direction nor guidance to the models provided for our practice. I was too quiet. Someone would tell me, you gotta tell them what to do! Ugh, the only people I am good at telling what to do is my husband, my boys and my younger sisters.

I learned that there are many similarities between formal portraiture and being a big sister.

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After many talks with friends and family, I decide to go in another direction with the images. I wanted to include a backdrop, a theme of sorts, that all these women share. Even though some are from the West Coast, most of us have moved away from where we are from. We have left the environment where we suffered our trauma and abuse, and have ended up on the west coast, within reach of the ocean. And so, we are all connected to these waters that heal. The tides are connected to the cycle of the moon and so are we. The ocean swells and alters the landscape and so do we. The ocean can have moments of stillness as do we. The ocean carries life and so do we. As they say in Alert Bay, the ocean gives and the ocean takes away.

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I started by photographing one of my mentors. She has a story to share but it wasn’t my place to share it, so I just did what I could do with my camera. I would photograph and then wait. We would cackle a bit. Then I would look at the light, her body, the ocean and continue shooting while reminding myself to give her guidance. I shot like this for most of the sessions. And in between each session I’d second guess myself and what I was doing. And wait. I do a lot of waiting and sitting on the images. I share with others my thoughts on the direction I want to take. And wait some more. I think and think and think and second guess myself again and almost give up. Pick myself back up and arrange another photo session. And just keep on shooting, talking, reading and thinking.

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Over the years I have had many conversation with these women, my friends, who have shared bits and pieces of their life stories with me. I am forever grateful for their willingness to be part of this series and their friendships. I have a feeling that this series will be an ongoing project. And I am very thankful to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council for supporting me and believing in me. As for the ocean, I will end with the following quote:

“Some people love the ocean. Some people fear it. I love it, hate it, fear it, respect it, resent it, cherish it, loathe it, and frequently curse it. It brings out the best in me and sometimes the worst.”

 Roz Savage

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-Amanda Laliberte