Dear families and friends of our cherished missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,
Some of you may have seen the CBC news story this morning concerning the NWAC Faceless Dolls Project and the discovery that many of them had gone missing. These dolls were lovingly created by you, and by mothers, daughters, sisters, other family members, community members, and concerned citizens to commemorate and to pay tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
When I arrived at NWAC in October 2016, then was joined in November by our new Executive Director, Lynne Groulx, we were informed that approximately six months earlier, the panels containing the dolls that had been exhibited across the country, could not be found. Right away, we began asking questions, trying to determine what had happened to them. This discovery came at a time of great transition and some upheaval, with only a limited number of NWAC staff at the time they went missing.
As a result, we received contradictory stories of what had happened. One story was that they had disappeared while they were in the traveling exhibit. Another story was that they had been returned and were taken by a well-meaning individual, who felt a connection to the panels. We continued to investigate their disappearance, however, we received very little further information or verification. What we do know, is that 11 panels were originally created as part of this project, and only one panel remains under NWAC’s care.
My staff also consulted with an Elder, who shared that because the dolls and the panels had been so lovingly created, as well as the number of ceremonies performed in honour of the dolls, that the panels were considered medicines. This Elder assured us that the dolls are not lost, but rather ‘travelling’, and that one day they may return to NWAC. We received specific instructions on how to feast the remaining panel and how to care for all our sacred items. This is not the first piece of artwork or tangible project related to this work that has ‘travelled’, although it is the first time NWAC has experienced such a situation, and we pray that the panels will be returned to us. If anyone has additional information on what happened to the panels, I would very much welcome it. You will not be held responsible; we simply wish the panels to be returned.
I do want to take this opportunity to, first of all, say that I am sorry that this has happened. Although this happened before I became NWAC President, I take responsibility for this loss, and I am willing to do what it takes to make this right. The loving work by families was truly a tribute to our missing women and girls. I am available if any families wish to speak or meet with me.
I also want to explain why we did not make this information public sooner. We did not wish to cause harm or additional sadness to families and anyone who had created dolls for the panels. We also feared that if we shared this information, that we might put too much pressure on whomever may have the panels, and that they would never come back to us. We were also conscious that some of our former staff were upset that the panels went missing under their watch, and we did not wish to shame or blame. Mistakes were made, and NWAC has taken steps so that this will not happen again. I hope it brings some comfort to know that each and every doll that was part of the original NWAC Faceless Dolls project was photographed and has been catalogued. We are working to have these images uploaded on our website so that the memory of this precious exhibit will continue to touch individuals.
I also wanted to share that the NWAC Faceless Dolls Project continues through the creation of hundreds of NWAC Faceless Dolls Legacy Projects lovingly made by families, communities, and organizations who made their own dolls and display them with great pride and with honour. Although this work is no longer funded, I am touched by how many continue to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through the creation of legacy projects.
Again, I wish to say that I am sorry that this has happened, and I am available if any family wishes to speak with me.
Merci, Thank You and Miigwetch,
Francyne Joe, President
Association des Femmes Autochtones du Canada – Native Women’s Association of Canada
1 Nicholas St., 9th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
613-722-3033 ext 262