Mural honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women unveiled on Red Dress Day


A new mural has gone up on the southwest corner of the Michaud & Levesque building in Sturgeon Falls, and it’s drawing a lot of attention. The piece, titled “Honouring Our Sisters” is both a joyously colourful celebration of traditions and a painful reminder that so many Indigenous women in Canada are missing, are murdered, and are marginalized. Jessica Somers, the artist, chose May 5 to have her mural mounted on the wall, as May 5 is also known as Red Dress Day. The Red Dress symbolizes missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The central portion is a Mukwa (Bear), black and white in the belly area, with a barren tree on a desolate landscape draped by a lone red dress. The bear itself is painted in traditional and colourful motifs and the surrounding landscape has jingle dress dancers holding feather fans aloft, treading lightly on the earth. 

Jessica Somers has only recently moved to West Nipissing within the last two years. She lives in Lavigne with her husband and adopted daughter. Jessica is herself of Abenaki heritage, from eastern Quebec. She says of this particular mural that it is both a reminder of all the missing and murdered women and a celebration of ancestry. “The jingle dress dancers, they dance for the healing of those who have passed, for those missing from our communities, and those who have lost loved ones. The bear represents strength and courage, and it’s also a protector. All women carry bear medicine – you know the saying – Mama Bear. It’s essentially the same thing – protecting the red dress because it’s a sacred item for our people.”

She points out features, symbolism, embedded in the painting – it deserves contemplation. “I tried to incorporate other things, the symbol with the little feathers in one of the dancers on her back (with rainbow colours) – it represents the two-spirit people, gender diverse people. You see all the little dots, representing all the beading our people do – that is another Indigenous art that was dying (and is revived). You see a lot of the Indigenous artists doing beading, painting, birch bark biting and birch baskets, quill work.” 

Somers says her artwork exploded with colour when her baby came into their lives. “The colour came. I never painted with colour until my rainbow baby came. My husband and I adopted and we had so many losses along the way to get to the adoption. At one point I made her a little table, and everything I paint for her is rainbow stuff, so she’s my rainbow baby … I’m the mama bear and I’m extremely protective of her – and all of a sudden, my art burst with colour and has really taken off.”

Her journey to being one of the artists embellishing the streets of Sturgeon Falls also has a bit of serendipity. “Being new to community, we were driving around Sturgeon and saw the beautiful paintings and I said, ‘Hey! I want to do that!’ And within a week [Gayle Primeau] called me to see if I wanted to be a vendor at the market. I asked her ‘Who do I contact to do a mural?’ and she said ‘That’s me’, so it just came about like that!”

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