News / Regina

Art project goes beyond politics around missing women at RCMP Heritage Centre

The RCMP Heritage Centre is hoping to couple the elements of good police work with an art project’s power to bring people together.

Program director Christine van der Merwe says that in conjunction with the presentation of KidsFirst Regina’s Faceless Dolls exhibit, the museum is planning to educate visitors about the missing and murdered aboriginal women represented in the felt figures on display.

“It’s an incredibly traumatic process to go through, when that happens to you as a family,” said van der Merwe. “We want to help them find a way to reach out to people that can help them through that incredibly difficult process.”

Last May, the RCMP released a study that found 1,181 police-reported incidents of missing or murdered aboriginal women across Canada. The document also shows that in Saskatchewan more than half of the total homicide victims between 1980 and 2013 were aboriginal women.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuted the need for a national inquiry into the issue this past August and sparked opposition from politicians including Premier Brad Wall.

But van der Merwe said that the Heritage Centre’s goal is not to take sides in a debate between officials.

“We are absolutely focused on reaching out to the community and, in a way, bypassing whatever politics might be involved,” said van der Merwe.

Photo Gallery

  • Jacob Morgan/Metro

    Christine van der Merwe is the program coordinator at the RCMP Heritage Centre.

  • Jacob Morgan/Metro

    KidsFirst Regina's Faceless Dolls project is on display at the RCMP Heritage centre through the month of September. It is inspired by the Native Women Association of Canada's initiative to represent all missing and murdered aboriginal women in the country.

  • Jacob Morgan/Metro

    KidsFirst Regina's Faceless Dolls tribute to missing and murdered is on display at the RCMP Heritage centre through the month of September. It is inspired by the Native Women Association of Canada's initiative to represent all missing and murdered aboriginal women in the country.

  • Jacob Morgan/Metro

    KidsFirst Regina's Faceless Dolls project is on display at the RCMP Heritage centre through the month of September. It is inspired by the Native Women Association of Canada's initiative to represent all missing and murdered aboriginal women in the country.

One of the strategies she would like to employ is connecting with schools and other partners to provide tool kits on preventative measures those at-risk can take to protect themselves, as well as on how loved ones can access victim services.

Al Nicholson, CEO of the Heritage Centre and a retired RCMP officer, said that trust between police and the public is a necessary component for effective investigations.

“Police officers, to do their job, need the help of the community,” said Nicholson. “There are some that are out there that know something about many of these (cases), and police… need the community’s direction and support.”

Elder Norma-Jean Byrd with KidsFirst Regina explained that the idea for the local Faceless Dolls project – which debuted at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in June – came from an initiative that the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) launched in 2012.

“We wanted to do something just for Saskatchewan to be proud of,” said Byrd.

After teaming up with Rhonda Stevenson, a teacher at the Balfour Collegiate high school, and bringing the program to students, Byrd explained that she continued to work with participants of all ages at organizations such as the Early Learning Centre and Aboriginal Family Services.

Echoing van der Merwe’s sentiment, Byrd said that the exercise of making the dolls went beyond the politics surrounding the victims.

“When they were doing them it was very heartfelt… you could just see the warmth and the love that was there,” she said. “Youth that participated have (had) their cousins and aunties go missing.”

President of the NWAC, Michèle Audette, said that the reason the dolls are faceless is to reflect how individual stories often get lost in the statistics.

Although the NWAC no longer has its own traveling Faceless Dolls exhibit, Audette said the idea is designed to be recreated and kept alive, which is what is happening in Regina.

"There is a beautiful impact that we were hoping would happen, where people will appropriate this project and it becomes their own," she said.

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