Winnipeg woman makes 1,200 tobacco ties each spring for MMIWG

By | May 5, 2020

Since 2017, Gerri McPherson of Winnipeg has made 1,200 tobacco ties each spring to honour her sister, her aunt and other missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

McPherson says each tobacco tie represents a woman who has gone missing or has been murdered.

In the U.S., May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the day is also observed in many places in Canada. 

Tobacco ties are pieces of cloth that have tobacco inside of them. Tobacco ties are used as spiritual offerings among some Indigenous nations in North America.

McPherson, who is Anishinaabe from Peguis First Nation, made the first set of 1,200 ties in 2017 using red cloth, sinew and tobacco and took them to be hung up in the lodge where sundances are held.

The sundance is one of the most important ceremonies for many Indigenous nations in North America. It is held outdoors and usually takes place in the early days of summer. It involves personal sacrifices like giving up food and water during that time.

“When I sundance with them, I’m dancing for healing for my family and the other families that are affected. I pray for justice for the families that have women [who have been] murdered,” said McPherson.

“When we put them around the tree, it looked like a bouquet of roses, it looked so beautiful.”

McPherson makes the tobacco ties to honour her aunt Jennifer Johnston, who was killed in 1980, and her sister Jennifer McPherson who was killed in 2013.

Tobacco ties are made using cloth, tobacco and sinew. Also seen here is an elk bone replica of the MMIWG memorial at the Forks in downtown Winnipeg. (Submitted by Gerri McPherson)

McPherson said the work is time consuming and sometimes leaves her hands with blisters. To help finish the tobacco ties every year, McPherson receives monetary donations from her sundance community for cloth and tobacco, and some people offer to help make them.

One of her helpers is her sister Kim McPherson.

“It’s a lot of work to do that,” said Kim.

“The fact that other people help her, whether it’s through donating materials or helping to pay for the cloth, sinew, tobacco, I think it’s amazing and it helps other people to heal.”

Kim usually helps her sister to prepare but hasn’t been able to this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

According to McPherson, the sundance that she attends is postponed, so she will continue to make the tobacco ties and will decide what to do with them later this summer.

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