This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.
Our guest blogger this week, Laura Kirby, is a graduate student pursuing her Master’s of Education (Leadership, Societies, and Language) at Bishop’s University. Her goal is to improve her educational practice to meet the social, cultural, academic and technological needs of her students. She is in her sixth year of teaching mathematics and science at Stanstead College, where she began after completing her thirteen-week practicum at the school as part of the requirements for her undergraduate degrees at Bishop’s University (BSc & BEd).
In one of my Masters of Education courses, Selected Topics in Curriculum: Teaching, Learning, and Radical Hope, Dr. Dawn Wiseman introduced us to the challenges of dealing with the invisible. As stated by Dr. Wiseman on our course Moodle page, “Critical approaches to education likewise ask what we cannot see, what we choose not to see, and how systems render some things hypervisible (and the norm) while simultaneously rendering other things invisible.” When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I was alarmed at how the vulnerability of the Indigenous community was exacerbated by their remote location, overcrowded multi-generational homes, and limited access to health care (Morin, 2020). More notably, I was concerned by the gendered impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous women that were being ignored. Prior to the pandemic, Indigenous women were already at a high risk of domestic violence and with the onset of the pandemic came a sharp rise in cases (Wright, 2020).
Supporters of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women campaign (#MMIW) promote the mantra, No More Stolen Sisters and wear a red handprint over their mouths as a symbol of their silenced voices (Native Womens Wilderness, n.d.). The REDress Project by Jaime Black addresses MMIW and forces people to envision the Indigenous women that once wore the dress (Ault, 2019).
In another Master’s of Education course, Learning to Write and Writing to Learn, Dr. Sunny Lau introduced us to the memory snapshot paper (Olson & Godfrey, 2019) as a way to engage students in visualizing, thinking, feeling and relating to another person’s experience, be they a fictional character or a real person. Through crafting the narrative to show (rather than tell) the person’s story, students get to experience vicariously and viscerally what the person goes through and be able to get a glimpse of the broader social circumstances the person is subject to. Energized by these ideas, I took it upon myself to write a snapshot memory about Sue Caribou and Marie Morin to capture and embody, albeit momentarily, the lived experience of a lost sister. Sue Caribou, an advocate for MMIW (Malone, 2017; Paul, 2016) offered support to her friend, Marie Morin, who was a victim of domestic violence. During the pandemic, on May 15, 2020, (Hatherly, 2020) Marie Morin was found dead. Her abuser, Brandon Carl Starnyski, was charged with second-degree murder (Martens, 2020). This memory snapshot that I created for the sisters was my response to the call for social justice for Indigenous women, so many of whom have been murdered, gone missing, and are perpetually misogynised. I hope by reading this memory snapshot, you will also be moved to action in support of this silenced group.
A Memory Snapshot: A Lost Sister
Pulling back the curtain, Sue stepped out of the shower, drying off and wrapping up in the towel thrown over the door. The ceramic floor coldly caressed her feet as she found her slippers. She stood in front of the vanity. I look tired, she thought. Drawing herself close to the mirror, she began by dabbing concealer under her eyes. She drew perfect black lines under her lids and swept over her eyelashes with mascara. While putting on her glasses, she noticed her lips, a shade of blue, an ominous reminder of her fragile heart. With a swipe of red lipstick, she finished. That will do. She held her towel tight towards her chest as she moved into the bedroom.
With the sun peeking through the curtains, her fingers traced the shadow on her worn cedar jewelry box. Finding the clasp, the lid sprung open, revealing her mother’s earrings inside. At the center, a turquoise tear drop surrounded by a bear claw, from which two feathers hung. She put them in and gently stroked the feathers, praying for justice. As she stood in front of her closet, eyeing a red summer dress she wanted to wear, she heard a pounding at the door. Who could that be? Letting her towel fall to the floor, she quickly wrapped her housecoat around herself, fastening the belt tightly and moved towards the door. She pushed the curtain aside. Crouching on her front step, heaving with large sobs, was Marie.
Sue walked down the steps. Not again. Marie’s eye had nearly swollen shut, oozing dark black blood from the cut just below her bottom lid with the viscosity of motor oil. Her fat lip, bloodied nose, and running makeup made her nearly unrecognizable to Sue. My beautiful baby, Sue thought. What has he done to you? She helped her inside to the kitchen and eased her down onto a chair. Habitually, Sue passed Marie an icepack and a kitchen towel. Sue didn’t even need to ask what happened anymore. She knew. On her way to the bathroom, Sue threw on some sweatpants and a t-shirt.
She started a bath and ran her hand under the faucet to check the temperature, a perfect lukewarm. Back in the kitchen, Marie was still sobbing, hunched over, holding the ice pack to her eye. As much as Sue did not like that Marie used alcohol to cope, she knew it would help to calm her down.
Holding two glasses in her hand, Sue asked Marie if she would like to have some wine. Marie looked up through her tears at Sue and whimpered, “That would be nice.” Sue said nothing and passed her a full glass. Taking a seat beside her, she took the towel from Marie’s hand and started blotting her face. Sipping their wine and listening to the bath fill softly in the background; they comfortably embraced the silence between them.
Sue delicately removed Marie’s capris, rolling them to her ankles and helping her step out. Marie raised her arms, and Sue lifted the torn bloody blouse over her head. Marie slowly took off her undergarments. Sue noticed the bruises – old and new – all over Marie’s body. There were more than last time. Some swollen and gruesome, others yellowed with age. She helped Marie into the water. She bathed her skin lightly, trying to lift the blood and not apply too much pressure to the bruises. As she was using a pitcher to rinse the soap suds from Marie’s upper body, Sue’s mind drifted to the intergenerational trauma of her family. The seven who were murdered. The two that are still missing. And the countless others.
When Sue came back to the bathroom, Marie had lifted herself out of the bathtub and was drying off. Sue handed her sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt. With a blanket under one arm and the other bracing Marie, they headed toward the couch. Sue supported Marie’s back as she lowered down. With help, Marie found a comfortable position on her right side. As she pulled the blanket up to Marie’s neck, Sue whispered, “Jesus, Marie. That piece of shit Brandon’s gonna beat you to death if you don’t leave ‘im, you hear? You’ll end up in a body bag, or in a fuckin’ ditch. Is that what you want?”
Sue let the question linger. With a tightening throat, she continued, “I cannot call a shelter for you. You mus’ call yourself. Please promise me you’ll call ‘im this time.” Cradling her broken friend gently in her arms, Sue quietly hummed a song her grandmother sang to her as a child, wiping Marie’s cheeks every few seconds. As Marie fell into an uneasy sleep, Sue softly kissed her copper cheek good night. The smell of Marie’s hair – a hint of strawberries and sage – transported Sue back to their childhood together. And she wept, careful to not wake Marie.
* * *
And when Sue looked back on this moment at Marie’s vigil a week later, she recalled the child-like innocence in Marie’s gaze, her soft smile and dimpled cheeks. A single tear rolled down her cheek and was soaked up by her facial mask. Her remaining friends and family paid tribute by sharing kind words and prayers for no more lost sisters. Sue could no longer hold it together. She fell to the ground. Her grief and devastation flowed out of her in a flood of uncontrollable tears. The old familiar pain radiating up and down her left arm again. The pain seizing up her chest. And for the last time, Sue Caribou’s heart could take no more.
Ault, A. (2019, March 19). These haunting red dresses memorialize murdered and missing Indigenous women. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/these-haunting-red-dresses-memorialize-murdered-and-missing-indigenous-women-180971730/
Hatherly, D. (2020, May 27). Domestic violence ‘an epidemic,’ advocate says after 2 Indigenous women killed in Winnipeg during pandemic. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ma nitoba/indigenous-victims-domestic-violence-homicides-1.5574176
Malone, K. (2017, February 20). ‘My goal is to get justice’: Sue Caribou heads to MMIW inquiry’s 1st family advisory circle. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/first -family-advisory-circle-in-toronto-1.3990726
Martens, K. (2020, May 20). Friend of Marie Morin says she was ‘calling out for help’ prior to murder. APTN National News. https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/friend-of-marie-morin-says-she-was-calling-out-for-help-prior-to-murder/
Morin, B. (April 2, 2020). First Nations in Canada left to fend for themselves during coronavirus pandemic: An outbreak will have devastating consequences, especially to fly-in and remote communities. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/coronavirus-indigenous-first-nations_ca_5e856113c5b60bbd734f00ee
Native Womens Wilderness (n.d.) Murdered & missing indigenous women. Retrieved August 10, 2020 from https://www.nativewomenswilderness.org/mmiw
Olson, C. B. & Godfrey, L. (2019). Chapter 4: Narrative writing. In S. Graham, C. A. MacArthur, & M. Hebert (Eds.), Best practices in writing instruction 3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Paul, A. (2016, January 16). Aunt of sisters charged with murder chronicles family’s painful past. Winnipeg Free Press. https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/living-in-shadow-of-violence-365520301.html
Wright. T. (2020, May 10). Violence against Indigenous women during COVID-19 sparks calls for MMIWG plan. CBC. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/ violence-against-indigenous-women-action-plan-covid-19-mmiwg-1.5563528
“A participant in the Greater Than Fear Rally & March in Rochester Minnesota. The rally & march were held in response to President Trump’s Rally at the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester.” by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0