Installation celebrates love, humour that filled lives of slain Indigenous teenager and woman

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Londoner Sonya Cywink was 31 and Patricia Carpenter was 14. Both were murdered — Cywink in 1994, Carpenter in 1992 — but before that, their lives meant so much.

That’s what Shades of our ­Sisters, an upcoming installation at London’s Central Library aims to show. Both of these young Indigenous women had lives filled with love and humour before they were tragically taken from their ­families.

Created by Ryerson University students and the families of Cywink and Carpenter, the installation makes no reference to their deaths or the violence that occurred. Instead, it shows their letters, photos, Cabbage Patch dolls, and baby jumpers. It also features two documentaries, each focusing on their lives as told by family.

“It gives a deeper dimension of their being and who they were as natural, young people,” said Maggie Cywink, Sonya’s older sister.

Maggie Cywink and her brother Alex, as well as Patricia’s mother Joyce Carpenter were the primary producers of the installation. Everything the students did went through them and they were given complete control over how Sonya and Patricia’s stories would be told.

“They worked so hard,” said student executive producer Laura Heidenheim. “It was important to them to honour not just their women, but all of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

Sonya Cywink is one of eight missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Southwestern Ontario. Her body was found in Elgin County at Southwold ­Neutral Indian Earthworks on Aug. 30, 1994. Carpenter was found dead at a construction site in Toronto on Sept. 25, 1992.

Selfless, gracious, a leader and a talented writer are some of the ways Maggie describes her sister. She said Sonya had a kind humour and always put people before ­herself.

“I think she would want (the ­installation) to be a teaching tool,” Maggie said. “She would want it to help save lives.”

Maggie said the process of putting the installation together was healing for her family and hopes it will help people experience a different part of Sonya and Patricia’s lives.

“The stories themselves are so natural,” Maggie said. “When people see them, they’re moved in a way of compassion and empathy.”

Maggie hopes the installation will be taken on as a national project, shown to politicians and brought to schools as a classroom tool.

If you go

What: Shades of our Sisters, an interactive installation showcasing the lives of two murdered Indigenous women, Sonya Cywink and Patricia Carpenter.

Where: London Central Library, 251 Dundas St.

When: Aug. 25-26, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closing ceremony at 1 p.m. Aug. 26

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