Nearly 2,000 earrings are on display in Mann Library until Saturday as part of the Sing Our Rivers Red exhibition, which aims to raise awareness of the 1,181 missing and murdered indigenous women that have been taken from Native communities since 1980.
Over 3,400 earrings have been donated and collected from countries including the United States, Canada, Scotland and the U.K., exceeding the exhibition’s initial goal to collect 1,181 single earrings to represent each woman, according to Natalie Rosseau ’16. The exhibit also includes letters from the earrings’ donors, which describe who they are donating their earrings for and why.
There are now two traveling exhibits, including one at Cornell, which is brought by the Indigenous Graduate Students Association, in partnership with undergraduate organization Native American Students at Cornell.
Sing Our Rivers Red seeks to address the not often recognized issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, said Grace Bulltail, president of the Indigenous Graduate Students Association.
“It’s a space to address this problem in a more academic setting,” Bulltail said. “Also I just wanted to understand the issues around this problem and why it’s not generally covered and why there’s a need for the awareness.”
Bulltail said she believes the “trauma” of violence against indigenous women is “a lasting problem.”
“The fact that this issue is erased along with the general history, the general acknowledgment of Native Americans — that’s something I felt that we could address just through this exhibit,” Bulltail said.
The national organizers of the exhibition asked for donations of single earrings — and not pairs of earrings — for a specific reason, according to Fred Blaisdell ’16, a member of Native American Students at Cornell.
“The idea is that if you were to find that one earring on the ground from the person that was abducted, you have one and the person who was abducted has the other one,” Blaisdell said. “There’s that connection of that one earring you found and that one earring that the person who was abducted is hopefully still wearing.”
Blaisdell said he believes that viewing all the earrings together will help represent the scale of the issue.
“It’s quite stunning when you look at the exhibit as a whole, once you consider the vast number of them in one area,” Blaisdell said. “It makes you stop and think, this is a pretty large problem and we need to figure out what to do to stop this and our family members from abuse and murder.”
Blaisdell said he made the earring he donated to the exhibition. Having learned how to bead from his relatives in Detroit and sympathizing with family members who have been affected, Blaisdell wanted to “contribute his earring to a broader cause and broader movement.”
In addition to the exhibit, event organizers also hosted a panel and discussion Tuesday night.
“I wanted there to be more dialogue around it,” Bulltail said.
Blaisdell opened the panel with an honor song for all the missing relatives. In addition, Ithaca College dissertation fellow Hayley Marama Cavino, women’s and gender studies, spoke along with Prof. Lisa Kahaleole Hall, American Indian program, about the meaning behind the traveling earring exhibit and the greater problem of the missing and murdered indigenous women.
“The issue of this exhibit and the sister exhibit is about making what’s invisible visible in different ways,” Hall said.
Cavino said the earrings “have broken free to speak the unsayable, unknowable things, the very fact that they are here in this library is a triumph given the context of colonization and the silences it engenders.”