Like It Was Yesterday was a phrase we heard more than once when families talked about how they feel about losing a loved one without justice or answers. “Even though she’s been gone 10 years, it feels like it was yesterday.”
We employed the same animated spray-painting technique as our previous film “Spirit of the Bluebird.” Our plan was to highlight 3 to 4 real life cases, and paint portrait murals of missing or murdered women in their home communities. Based on photographs supplied by the families, we photographed the portrait being painted in time-lapse. Following the documentary style of “Spirit of the Bluebird”, we interviewed family members and brought their stories into the work with text.
The topic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women for most native people is hard to talk about, because most of us know someone who’s been taken away with no sign of her coming back. We anticipated that connecting with families who have been hurt by the loss of a loved one would be difficult. Due to the way the system treats cases, the families and friends of missing women don’t necessarily trust strangers.
We heard about other artists who have made work without the permission or participation of the families, or people who have launched fundraising projects for the cause of missing and murdered women, but who put all the profits in their own pockets. We did not want to wind up in league with those folks. Treating the families with respect was paramount for us.
We spoke with many families to understand the issues around missing and murdered women: why it happens, how the media, police and the justice system treat cases. We learned it can happen to anyone, and that no one ever expects it to happen to them.
We wound up with 5 families coming forward to have their loved ones featured in our film. The first was from my own family, Martha Gaucher, my aunt’s mother. Martha died of an overdose, as did her 2 sisters, and though the same person benefited from all three life insurance policies, there was never an investigation at all. This story was unknown to me before we made Like It Was Yesterday, and was not talked about in my family. My aunt arranged a location in Red Deer for the mural, and expressed happiness at honouring her mother in this way. I’m glad to have my artwork bring something good to a tragic situation.
The next family to come forward was the family of Jackie Crazy Bull, who was a relative of Gloria Black Plume, the subject of “Spirit of the Bluebird”. Jackie, a mother and auntie, was murdered in a random stabbing spree in Calgary in July 2007. No one has ever been charged for her murder. Jackie’s family did not have a location for a mural, but suggested we paint a banner for them instead, whcih could be used in vigils and walks. We wound up painting the remaining 4 portraits as large banners to be sent to their loved ones.
Bridget Tolley of Families of Sisters in Spirit in Ottawa came forward, agreeing to have us paint a portrait of her mother. Gladys Tolley was struck and killed by a Surete du Quebec cruiser while walking on her reservation Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg. The police have refused to conduct an inquiry into the case, though they did not call tribal police, or the coroner, and had the cruiser removed from the scene for repairs.
Bridget also brought the families of Tiffany Morrison and Maisy Odjick to the project. Maisy and her friend Shannon Alexander disappeared without a trace in 2008 from the Maniwaki Quebec area. Their families are still looking for them. Tiffany disappeared a few miles from her home on Kaknawake Quebec in 2006. Though Tiffany’s remains were recently found, her killer has never been discovered.
With the help of photographer Veronica Reeves we painted the first mural in Red Deer, and the 4 banners in Calgary. I don’t have too much experience spray painting people, a task definitely requiring a very large painting surface. It took many attempts and re dos but I eventually got the portrait of Martha Gaucher looking nice. I enjoyed the challenge of painting giant faces and appreciated the complexity of maintaining the proper proportions. It was strange to me, all of the women looked familiar, like I had met them before.
We hope “Like It Was Yesterday” will bring awareness of the women as individuals, and will speak to the larger community about the issue. Our hope is that by screening Like It Was Yesterday in the public venue of the TTC and Pattison screens, the women’s images may reawaken leads to help solve these cases, or bring them home.
The project was definitely a challenge, but it’s always rewarding to help others. We wish to thank ImagineNative for creating this inititative, and thank the TTC and Pattison for being brave enough to screen all four of the works to the general public.
Jesse Gouchey & Xstine Cook
Paintings and Animation
Laurie Odjick, Melanie Morrison, Bridget Tolley, Eleanor Gouchey, Sandra Many Feathers, and their families.
Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes & Chantal Chagnon
Craig Benjamin, Danielle Boudreau, Lauire Ann Ellis, Kathleen Quinn, Lorraine Stone, Sean Dennie, Kaily Bird and family
Calgary Animated Objects Society
ImagineNATIVE Film and New Media Arts Festival