(Courtesy Shades of Our Sisters)

Joyce Carpenter, the mother of Patricia Carpenter, in her home during shooting for the documentary. (Courtesy Shades of Our Sisters)

For their final thesis project, eight media production students came together and created Shades of Our Sisters, an installation that celebrates the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women, trans and two-spirit individuals.

The project focuses on the lives of Patricia Carpenter and Sonya Cywink, two of the more than 1200 missing and murdered indigenous women.

The installation is a multi-media interactive experience and the team, Upwind Productions, aims to show a compassionate retelling of how these women lived, how they were loved and how they’ve been missed by their families.

“Usually a reporter’s coverage of these issues is newsy and focuses on hard statistics and it’s easy to forget that these were people and they had lives and they had a whole different side to them other than ‘she was found on the side of the road,’” said Josephine Tse, the project manager of Shades of Our Sisters.

The installation allows people to get to intimately know these women, incorporating physical artifacts from their lives, ten minute documentaries about both women, home footage and interviews with their family members.

Alex Cywink, the brother of Sonya Cywink told Laura Heidenheim, the executive producer of the project, that for him Shades of Our Sisters is about his sister no longer being a statistic, having her shown as a person with a nuanced life.

Alex Cywink being interviewed for the documentary on Manitoulin Island. (Courtesy Shades of Our Sisters)

Behind the scenes: Alex Cywink being interviewed for the documentary in London, Ont. (Courtesy Shades of Our Sisters)

There will be home video footage of Patricia Carpenter holding her baby boy just days before she was killed.

They’re also re-creating her mother’s house and a wall of photographs that will have iPads that play videos of stories from different parts of Patricia’s life.

The two families are the producers of the installation and the RTA team stresses the importance of the families having agency over the way their sisters and daughters stories are told.

(Courtesy Shades of Our Sisters)

Behind the scenes: Laura Heidenheim and Sonya Cywink’s sisters shooting on Manitoulin Island.(Courtesy Shades of Our Sisters)

“The fact that it’s a families-first production is very important because none of us on the team are indigenous and as media students and the future of media we want to be the platform for them, we want to do it the right way instead of speaking for them,” said Tse.

The installation will be held in the Tecumseh Auditorium of the Student Centre from Feb. 17 to 19. After it leaves Ryerson it’s going to the Alderville Community Centre and Espanola High School on Manitoulin Island so members of the Alderville and Whitefish First Nations can interact with the installation.

With Shades of Our Sisters, Upwind Productions hopes to change the dialogue about missing and murdered indigenous women.

“I think often what happens is you revictimize the victim when you focus only on the situation. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what her blood-alcohol level was, it doesn’t matter what she was wearing, it doesn’t matter whether she worked in the sex trade, no one should have killed her or she shouldn’t be missing,” said Heidenheim.


Kelsey Adams is a journalist from Toronto with feature, arts, music and fashion writing skills and visual storytelling skills. You'll find her standing on chairs to get the perfect Instagram picture of her food and strolling the streets late at night listening to Blood Orange. She has a lowkey obsession with skate culture and she's a sucker for a good underdog story.

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