As a young girl growing up in Dillingham, BBNC shareholder Amber Webb would often see stories about missing and murdered indigenous women. Sometimes they were even women she knew. These stories stuck with her and became the motivation for her work as an artist and activist.
What started as a creative way to draw attention to the issue of missing or murdered indigenous women has turned into a project that gives their families and communities a way to heal. Amber calls it the Kuspuk Project. She painstakingly draws the faces of missing and murdered women on a kuspuk she hand stitches. When asked why she chose a kuspuk, Amber points to the symbolism the garment holds in Native culture. “In Yu’pik culture, kuspuks were often shared throughout the community,” Amber said. “Many women would hand stitch clothing for their families as a way of taking care of them. I think we need to take care of women in a similar way.”
Amber’s first kuspuk displayed the faces of 47 missing or murdered women, many from Bristol Bay. It took her nearly three months to complete. “I was a little scared. What if nothing comes of this, what if nobody pays attention?” But people did. Amber traveled around the state with the kuspuk, often taking it to unexpected places such as music performances, where she spoke to curious passersbys about the project. In October, the Anchorage Museum purchased the kuspuk. It will be on semi-permanent display in the Native Art section of the museum.
But there are more stories to tell. The Rasmuson Foundation recently awarded Amber a grant to work on her second kuspuk, one she anticipates will include 300-400 missing or murdered women from Alaska, Canada, and the Lower 48. “I wanted to connect Canada and other States on this issue,” Amber said, “to help bring attention to something that affects Native communities everywhere.”
Community is an important part of Amber’s life, including her ties to BBNC. Her mother is a longtime BBNC employee, and as Amber was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Alaska Anchorage, she was often one of the craftspeople selling goods at shareholder meetings. She offered hoodies that she hand painted with significant cultural images—fish, water, and land. Having this platform helped her pay for college and encouraged her to continue incorporating cultural elements into her art. “BBNC has been a positive influence for me,” she said. “Everyone has always been so supportive of whatever I’ve done.”
For BBNC, the support is mutual. “Amber has shown a lot of courage by bringing attention to a very serious issue that unfortunately affects our entire community,” said Jason Metrokin, President and CEO. “These women deserve to have their stories told, and Amber is telling them in a way that both honors them and our culture.”
If you have a family, friend, or loved one who is a missing or murdered indigenous woman, Amber would like to help tell their story. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook at “Imarpik Ink by Amber Webb.”