Sing Our Rivers Red employs art as means of activism

by Josie Gereszek —

A tri-college week of events raising awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women is coming to campus.

Sing Our Rivers Red opened Monday at NDSU’s Memorial Union Gallery with a mobile exhibit of Native American earrings, each one symbolizing a victim of gender-based violence against an indigenous woman or two-spirited person.

It’s the brainchild of Tanaya Winder. The exhibit, and movement itself, looks to raise awareness of the disproportionate victimization of native women. She said though its inspiration is scattered, the items involved just made sense.

“I can’t think of a better object than earrings to symbolize those we’ve lost and who were taken from us,” she said. “It has such a connective power since a lot of people wear jewelry. We give it as gifts, we use it for our regalia, we bead, we make it. These objects often have special people and memories attached to them.”

She said the common ownership of earrings has made it easy for others to donate to the work.

“It’s something a lot of people have,” Winder said. “It’s small enough for people to send in on their own, but it carries a big purpose.”

The goal was to collect 1,181 pieces. Organizers received more than 2,500 — enough to make two traveling exhibits.

Earrings and messages have been sent from 14 U.S. states, Canada and Scotland.

“Some folks are sending along notes with their earrings, and I can tell you the emails and messages are a heavy kind of beautiful,” Winder said. “ It’s amazing to see everyone coming together from all over to support this call to raise awareness.

“It’s a great weight to carry these stories that are shared with me, but I also get a lot of love and appreciation from folks who have been messaging me. So many people have thanked me for what we’re doing — they say it’s beautiful. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to be able to help in any way I can.”

The exhibit will remain at NDSU throughout February and the first week of March. From there it will travel to another event at the University of Colorado in Denver. Winder said she’s had requests for an exhibit to visit Utah, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and New Mexico.

She said the interest across the country is a testament to just how many people value the initiative.

“I think it just goes to show how many people care, how needed this movement is, and that people are starting to organize even more to raise awareness and hopefully create some change,” Winder said. “It’s a beautiful, indescribable feeling to see it taking off.”

The inaugural Sing Our Rivers Red week here takes inspiration from and stands in solidarity with the 24th annual Women’s Memorial March in Canada, also aimed at bringing awareness to the epidemic of colonial gender-based violence.

“I always think the first step is awareness and education,” Winder said. “Let’s help others know what’s going on, get to the how’s and why’s, then figure out the what’s next.”

With a concert, a documentary, commissioned artwork, and the exhibit itself, organizers have employed art as a means of that education.

“Art is a weapon,” Winder said. “Art has a way of tugging at the heartstrings in a way that rhetoric and facts aren’t always able to. For artists, their art practice and craft is their gift, and it can be a powerful and empowering tool to get the message out there.”

The documentary, “Missing,” will be screened at 5 p.m. Tuesday in MSUM Library Room 103. Following will be a panel discussion including the film’s producer, Young Jibwe.

The Arming Sisters Workshop takes place Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. in the MSUM Underground. The course will utilize women’s self defense to revive “self-empowerment, love, and ownership of body,” according to the event’s Facebook page. Dinner will be provided.

Friday will see the Sing Our Rivers Red Honoring Event in Concordia’s Barry Auditorium. The community gathering will feature a talk and Q&A on the intersection of violence against women and oil extraction. Again, dinner will be provided.

Finally, Saturday at noon, the community will gather for a march beginning at 12:30 p.m. from the Fargo Public Library and ending at Moorhead’s Public Library. There, a rally will take place until 2 p.m. Free hot chocolate and coffee will be provided. Participants are encouraged to bring flags, posters, banners and hand drums. Speakers include SORR organizers.

Throughout the week supporters can help spread the word by using the hashtags #MMIW and #SORR.

“I think when it comes to any cause or issue, we all have something to give, some skill, some gift, a voice, a passion. Use what you’ve been given to make a difference,” Winder said. “It starts with all of us.”

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