Lorelei Williams is the founder of Butterflies and Spirit, a group of Indigenous women who have used dance to raise awareness of missing and murdered Women.
We interviewed Lorelei as part of a series of conversations with Indigenous women activists marking the 10th anniversary of our 2004 Stolen Sisters report.
1. What was the idea behind Butterflies in Spirit?
On October 4th 2011, I was at a vigil for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. I was there by myself. Molly Dixon had gotten up to speak about her daughter Angeline Pete who recently went missing in May 2011. When she spoke I couldn’t help but cry. Someone saw me crying, they came over, gave me a big hug, and a poster. This poster had newspaper clippings glued all over it. I noticed people trying to read what was on my poster. I didn’t even know what was on my poster, I just knew it had to do with missing and murdered women. A thought came to me about how I could get my missing Aunt Belinda Williams’ picture out there.
I pictured my Missing Aunt’s picture on a black t-shirt. Then I thought, I also have to remember and honour my cousin Tanya Holyk who went missing in 1996. Her DNA was later found on Robert Pickton’s Farm. Then I thought, I can walk around with a t-shirt, but I wanted a way to draw attention to the t-shirt, and the issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls. Then I thought of dance.
I’m not a dancer myself, but I knew this would get somebody’s attention. Beyonce’s song “Who Run the World, Girls!” got my attention and I knew that had to be the song. I thought of it as a way to empower women, youth and girls. I could actually picture the dance in my head. I could see it.
I shared this idea with a few people and they loved it. My Aunty Carrie started talking about it to people and it just took off from there. Family and friends of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women heard about the idea they wanted to join the troupe as well.
2. Butterflies in Spirit has performed on Vancouver streets as a flash mob. What kind of reaction do you get?
Shock, empowerment, and a lot of people were actually very amazed by the performance.
When people heard about the idea, a lot of people wanted to support us. However, some people didn’t think it was a great idea. I heard things like, “a bunch of girls are going to take over the street and do a dance?!” After we did the performance those same people couldn’t believe the message we were sending. Especially when we incorporated the medicine wheel in our performance and the graphic ending when we lay down on the street one by one and get covered by sheets which is supposed to represent all the murdered Aboriginal women in body bags.
3. Do you think that there’s momentum building on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women?
I think the momentum is definitely building on the issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. Especially with more leaders supporting us and calling for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls across Canada. Butterflies in Spirit hasn’t been performing for a little while now with our busy lives and stuff. However, within the past couple of weeks our facebook page has been getting several hundreds of likes and I haven’t even been promoting it or anything. I’m shocked! Two weeks ago we had over new 400 likes, last week just over 100 and this week over 300.
4. What is the most important thing that you would like to see done to support the families of missing and murdered women?
A National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls Across Canada! We need to get to the root causes of why this is happening here in CANADA! We need to raise awareness of this issue so this doesn’t happen to anymore families. We need healing programs for families of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls. We also have to take preventative measures across Canada to make sure this does not happen anymore.
How do so many Aboriginal Women and Girls go missing without a trace? This has happened to my family four times. How does this happen to my family four times!!! My Aunt Belinda Williams has been missing since 1977. My Cousin Tanya Holyk went missing in 1996 but her DNA was later found on Robert Pickton’s Farm. A man who police say had attacked and killed other women took my cousin Doreen Green into the mountains and raped her, but luckily she was able to escape. And my aunt who was pushed out of a hotel room in the Downtown Eastside, thankfully she survived this fall. This has got to STOP!