The brother of one of the missing women whose DNA was found on Willie Pickton’s farm says the Museum of Anthropology made a mistake when it decided to cancel an exhibit featuring large portraits of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
"I think it was the wrong decision for them to make," Ernie Crey, Sto:lo Tribal Council fisheries advisor, told the Straight by phone. "I think they should have gone ahead with it. I don’t think an institution like that should cave any time there’s criticism from the community about an exhibition, especially one like this."
The DNA of Crey’s sister, Dawn Teresa, was found on Pickton’s farm in 2004. Crey said he had hoped the exhibition would have sparked discussion about the issue of missing women across the province. "I think the issue of murdered and missing women...is a phenomenon taking place all across the country. There are a lot of aboriginal women involved, that’s true. But there are also non-aboriginal women that have been slain and have gone missing, and in some instances no one has any knowledge of their whereabouts at this stage. I think this issue needs to be talked about, reflected on, all across British Columbian society," he said.
MOA director Anthony Shelton said by phone that the decision to pull the exhibition was made because of a lack of consensus between parties who might be affected by the exhibition and the events being planned around it.
"We pulled the plug because I couldn’t build the constituency I wanted to," said Shelton. "What we wanted this exhibition to do was to promote discussion about the issue of missing women, and not only in Vancouver, but beginning in Vancouver and looking at it in North America as a whole.... So to make that work we needed a whole constellation of activities around the exhibition and we felt we weren’t able to orchestrate that..... The exhibition was just the tip of the iceberg. The exhibition was intended to galvanize a whole lot of events around it on that issue of violence against women. And we couldn’t bring that off in the time that we had."
Shelton said he was planning a "teach-in" next month to discuss the events surrounding the exhibition. "We want to look at this as a learning experience—we’ve not worked in urban areas that much in the past—so one of the things we’re organizing next month is we’re going to have what I’m calling a teach-in, and invite those different constituencies, and invite the artist, and invite people from across the university to get together and talk about why it didn’t happen."
Shelton did not name the specific groups which had protested the exhibition, but members of the Women’s Memorial March have been vocal about their opposition to the exhibition going forward at the MOA. In a widely reported e-mail to Shelton, Corinthia Kelly, an organizer of the annual Women’s Memorial March in the Downtown Eastside, wrote: "The Forgotten’ does nothing to stop the violence against women in this community. It exoticizes them and turns them into commodities to promote the ”˜Masik brand.’ It is very offensive to many of these families (of missing and murdered women) that the image of their beloved daughters, mothers, sisters and aunties has been stolen and used by this ambitious artist to further her own career."
As for concerns that the exhibit "might cause further distress to the families and friends of the missing and murdered women," as Shelton expressed in a statement regarding its cancellation, Crey said it would have been manageable.
"We’ve undergone undue stress now for over a decade," he said. "And yeah, it would cause additional stress but you know what? It’s the kind of stress that we can probably live with, because we really want to see the issue of the murdered and missing women engaged and dealt with and have the right social policy, housing and health policies, changed in the Downtown Eastside, so we don’t see yet another group of women, god forbid, being set up for another predator."