Healing through dance

When Lorelei Williams began using dance as a form of demonstration,
she didn’t realize how healing it would be. | Photo courtesy of Heather Lamoureux

“Until Canada actually cares about this issue, our women are still going to go missing and be murdered at a high rate in this country,” says Lorelei Williams.

Williams, an activist from the Skatin Nations on her mom’s side and Sts’ailes (Chehalis) on her dad’s side, is raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women through her dance group Butterflies in Spirit. They will be performing Aug. 15, with the Vines Art Festival through online platforms.

Getting people’s attention

“We have so many things working against us with the government, police and the media, they label us in their stories,” says Williams. “Until all of those things stop, we’re still going to go missing and be murdered.”

On October 4, 2011, Williams went to a National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls vigil and listened to a mother recall stories of her missing daughter.

Williams continued attending protests and vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women: her own aunt, Belinda Williams, went missing in 1978; her cousin, Tanya Holyk, was murdered by Robert Pickton in 1996; another aunt survived being pushed out of a window; and another cousin survived being taken by a different serial killer and raped.

For a long time, Williams heard their heart wrenching stories, cried for them and then when it was over, would leave and go home; but this time was different.

This time, when she and others from the vigil marched along the street, she noticed something.

“I could see people looking from their cars to see what my sign said. I thought, they’re not going to see this, they’re not going to know what the protest is about by looking at our signs,” she says.

She realized she needed a way to get the attention of people. Then for some reason, she says she thought of dance.

The healing power of dance

“We became this dance group of family members, representing our missing and murdered loved ones, but I also didn’t realize how healing dance would be,” says Williams.

The name Butterflies in Spirit came from Williams thinking about transformation, healing and beauty. She thought about her cousin, her aunt, and other Indigenous women who are targeted.

“There’s so much trauma and when we can fight through these things, we’re like butterflies. So I thought of butterflies here and in the spirit world, too,” she says.

The group was originally only supposed to have one performance and five days before that, Williams’ mother passed away.

“I knew this was something my mom would want me to do and it was hard, but it was also healing,” she says.

After the performance, some of the dancers sat down on the ground to direct attention to their t-shirts which had the faces of their missing loved ones on them. Others lay down on the ground and were covered with a white sheet to represent those who had been murdered.

“Our dance wasn’t just your regular dance, we sent a message,” says Williams.

The support from the community is what led Butterflies in Spirit to keep dancing.

That performance is also what connected Williams with Vines Art Festival’s Artistic Director Heather Lamoureux.

The Vines art festival

The Festival, in its sixth year, gives diverse and talented artists – working toward land, water, and relational justice – a platform.

The festival features over 80 artists, including Butterflies in Spirit, and fuses the arts with activism to bring unique and powerful performances from across creative disciplines.

For their piece, Butterflies in Spirit are performing contemporary hip hop and traditional dance.

“I actually didn’t know any of my traditional dances because it was taken away from my mom in residential school,” says Williams.

For some of the Butterflies, including Williams, this was the first time they were learning their traditional dances.

“That’s the amazing thing with the Vines Festival. They asked me who I wanted to mentor me, and now I’m partnered up with my aunt,” says Williams, “and she’s going to teach me my traditional dances.”

Learn more about the festival here: www.vinesartfestival.com