A circle of healing

Red Amautiit Project

Ikayuqtiit’s Red Amautiit Project provides a circle of healing to families with missing and murdered Inuit women and girls.

It began stitch by stitch, in a sewing circle in Winnipeg.

The group of women would meet for regular sewing circles led by Ikayuqtiit, a charity formed by the Manitoba Inuit Association. Here, they would sew, talk, and spend time together. It was a shared space that offered healing and community.

“Discussions brought up that maybe we should look into something much like the First Nations Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign,” explains Gayle Gruben, Project Lead and Sewing Instructor.

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls represent 24% of female homicide victims in Canada, according to the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Despite the small population of Inuit, their communities are some of those most affected by this form of gender-based violence. Their loved ones are often left reeling in the wake of the tragedy, needing support but missing a way to find it.

The women in the sewing circle wondered if there was a way to provide support, community and healing to Inuit in a way that was culturally attuned. What if there was – and what if they did it themselves?

From that idea, the Red Amautiit Project was born.

Healing through creating

Ikayuqtiit means helping. Really, it is Inuit helping Inuit.” That’s the core of the work done by the team at Ikayuqtiit, which includes Gayle, Janet Kanayok, Director of Programs and Services, and Rachel Dutton, former Executive Director.

Ikayuqtiit takes Inuit concerns and builds them into their programming and design. They go into communities and create supports with them, for them. One of their key priorities is supporting families who’ve experienced trauma caused by missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and The Red Amautiit Project brings that support.

The project’s name comes from the amauti, a parka traditionally worn by Inuit mothers. To Gayle, the Red Amauti works as “a symbol” for both Inuit and for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“The pouch in the back of it is for your baby,” she explains. “It’s to create closeness and [to show] how close a mother and child are, and the importance of being a mom, being a woman.”

The project encourages community members to gather in a place that is accessible to all and sew an amauti together. Facilitators provide the materials for the amauti. Participants then choose the pieces that best reflect their feelings and commemorate their loved one.

Tomorrow’s work

The project, which is backed by Women and Gender Equality Canada’s Feminist Response and Recovery Fund, began with a selection of thirteen communities nationally. The team had planned for a two-year initiative – but the COVID-19 pandemic changed those timelines.

“We did not want to go and do virtual classes because it would be very irresponsible to send materials and talk over our screen to say, ‘Okay, tell us the story of how your loved one was murdered,” Janet said. “We did not feel that was respectful at all.”

Although travel restrictions limited access to the planned locations, Ikayuqtiit was able to bring the Red Amautiit sewing circle to eight communities.

“We were only going to do the Inuit aspect of it in the Northern hemisphere,” Gayle explains. “We eventually decided it would be best to do a national program. We included the whole of Manitoba, which was Brandon, Churchill, and Winnipeg. We also went to Rigolet and Nain, two communities in Nunatsiavut.”

Janet and Gayle hope that the initiative can expand to other Inuit communities and lend a hand to more of Canada’s Inuit. “We’re not a big population, but we’re spread over Canada,” Gayle adds.

With the support that the project has received so far, both Gayle and Janet are optimistic about its future.

They call on Canadians to continue to amplify support of Inuit in Canada. “Use your voice,” Janet said. “Being silent is not an option anymore. Use your voice to stand up for Inuit or Indigenous rights, the BIPOC community, and the LGBTQ2S+ community.”

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