The second annual Sisters in Spirit poetry slam was held on Oct. 2, 2017, at Kinsella Auditorium at St. Thomas University in Fredericton with much success. The Poetry Slam is one of a four-part series of events being held in the greater Fredericton area to honour and remember murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples. The organizing institutions are the Sisters in Spirit Committee and St. Thomas University.
St. Thomas University Elder in Residence, Miigam’agan, offered the opening and closing prayers. Because of fire regulations, the traditional smudging ceremony could not be held in the auditorium.
Peggy Brooks from Gignoo Transition House was the Master of Ceremonies for this event that is meant to give voice to those who have something to express and offer a safe space. Because of the subject materials that can offer trigger reactions, elders were present to provide support for participants. Brooks invited those present to “get their pens going” if they were not ready to share this year.
The stage featured an adult-height purple ribbon that was imagined by a friend of Brooks and crafted by she and her husband. The ribbon of remembrance features laminated feathers stuck on it with the identities of about 300 women, their names and pictures. Some of the work was done by the women of Gignoo Transition House.
The St. Mary’s women’s drumming group, called “Pokuhulakon Witsehkehsu: Sisters of the Drum,” has made great strides in the year that it has been in operation and has been invited to participate at events throughout the region, according to Brooks. Six of the ten Sisters performed twice during the event, including the “Warrior Woman” song.
The evening also featured video presentations of significant songs and poems. One poem about missing and murdered Indigenous women, “She is a mouthful of stars” by Gregory Scofield, includes lines such as “she is laughing more than those who shamed her.” Another rap video called “Waiting” featured the testimonials of women waiting for their daughters to come home. A video of the poem “Quiet” by Mary Black was also shown. Black’s poem declares: “I will not shut up and I will not sit down (…) I will not be quiet.”
Local artist and playwright Natalie Sappier was also present and shared a series of poems addressed to various family members. Sappier’s poems were a powerful evocation of the experiences of Indigenous families. One, addressed to a sister, stated: “I know they are worried. I can tell by mom’s eyes (…) I miss my sister.” A later section of the poem declared: “we cannot let the sad ones roam and we cannot create more monsters.” Sappier’s touching performance ended with a poignant rendition of the prayer song.
One performer, Savvy Simon thanked participants for their courage because “all of these words were written with tears and pain.” The first poem Simon read was “a long time coming” because it was about “growing up without of father (…) a big piece that was missing in [her] heart.” Simon’s second poem was a long litany of reasons why her relationships have ended, echoing with “It’s over because… I’m walking away because…”
One of the members of the drumming group, Krista Paul, read one of her own poems, written about personal experience but from a different person’s point of view. Her poem contained the lines: “this is an invisible scar she has (…) that she will never forget.” Other participants read poems by others relevant to the night’s theme. Gwen McIntyre read a poem called “Stop violence against women” and Jessica Paul read a poem she wished was hers called “Murder I wrote” which specified “I killed you in my mind.” Finally, an emotional Norma Bronte read the poem “Your eyes” by Helen Knott which includes the following verses: “you see me as dispensable, this is how you see me.”
The one-year old blues/alternative band, the Quin Bonell Band, performed at the event. Made up of four talented musicians, the band wowed the attendees with two songs from their first CD called “The Night.” The band will release its first CD on Nov. 10 at the Capital Complex at midnight.
Sponsored by St. Mary’s Gignoo Transition House for Indigenous women dealing with intimate partner violence, the Sisters in Spirit series of activities began on Sunday, Oct. 1st with a blanket exercise. Subsequent events will happen on Tuesday, Oct. 3rd at 6pm (a self-defense and self-care event) at the Old Reserve.
This series of events will finish with the annual vigil, to be held on Wednesday, Oct. 4th, at 6pm at St. Mary’s First Nation Cultural Centre, 42 Dedham St., with parallel vigils happening in 6 other participating New Brunswick Indigenous communities.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op.