Indigenous women ‘need to stop always feeling like a target,’ says artist behind MMIWG billboards

By | June 3, 2020

A Winnipeg artist whose work was chosen for a new public awareness campaign about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls says it’s “normal” to feel afraid as a young Indigenous woman.

“Growing up in Winnipeg I was told it was normal to hear about these things, which is obviously wrong,” said 18-year-old Ida Bruyere.

“I was told to make sure I walk on a lit street, and make sure no one was following you, and if a car slows down beside you, you run,” she said.

Some 30 billboards featuring Bruyere’s artwork called Lost But Not Forgotten are being put up across southern Manitoba.

The billboard campaign was launched by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization Wednesday, on the one-year anniversary of the release of the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Brueyer’s work was chosen for the campaign after an SCO art competition earlier this year.

This is one of many billboards put up across southern Manitoba to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Young artists were asked to submit work that speaks to the violence against Indigenous women and girls and raise more awareness on the issue.

Having her work chosen was “very exciting,” Bruyere said, “and I can now cross it off my bucket list because I always wanted to do something with my art.” 

“I think it’s a statement of where we are right now and how we view these issues,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“We have lost people out there … that are still missing, and we can’t forget about it.”

‘It’s about all of us’

The billboards Bruyere created show a woman painted in black and white.

There is a red handprint across her mouth — which has become a common symbolic representation of violence that affects Indigenous women. 

“She is painted in black and white to represent herself as missing, and that she had a loved one that was missing, and advocated for that loved one who was missing,” Bruyere said. “The handprint shows how she is silenced.”

Bruyere hopes her art sheds more light on the issues surrounding MMIWG.

“Everyone that is still lost, we still think of them. They’re in our hearts,” she said.

“We need to stop always feeling like a target.”

Bruyere poses with Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels as they hold the painting she created for the new billboard campaign. (Submitted by Southern Chiefs’ Organization)

Daniels said he hopes the billboards will resonate with everybody.

“Yes, it’s Indigenous girls, yes, it’s women and children, yes, it’s a lot of minority groups — but really, it’s about all of us coming together to find solutions,” he said.

Bruyere, who has ties to Sagkeeng First Nation and Black River First Nation, said she herself has had scary encounters growing up on the streets.

“Even living in the city, me and my friends, we’d be followed from time to time by men in cars. It was scary.”

She said she grew up in foster care and understands why many Indigenous kids might be more vulnerable than others.

“I’m jumping from home to home, I didn’t have anyone to watch over me, and nobody really cared about me growing up,” she said.

“It would be hard to be found if nobody knows where you are, or cares where you are in the first place.”

Daniels said Bruyere is a powerful role model as an artist, student, and a young mother.

“Not only is Ida Bruyere a gifted artist, she is an inspiring example of youth leadership in action,” he in a statement released to the media Wednesday. 

Her art will be featured on 30 Winnipeg Transit buses and in various locations across southern Manitoba until the end of July, including billboards in Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Dauphin, Minnedosa and Winkler.

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