The power of a red dress will hopefully inspire reconciliation and safety for Indigenous women
By Brandi Morin, Toronto Star, May 4, 2021
On Wednesday, friends and families of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People will honour their lost loved ones with a lone symbol.
May 5 is collectively known as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
The symbol: a red dress.
Hundreds of scarlet dresses will hang to remember the lives of the victims of this genocide. It’s a day where sorrow is palpable.
Last summer, I travelled to Blue River, B.C. to report on a pipeline conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens.
The event was cloaked in racial tensions, uncertainty and anger from both sides. The white protestors held a barbecue, patrolled by bikers, and unbridled pro-oil advocates.
The First Nations held a traditional ceremony led by an elder across the road. They lamented the destruction of their lands and later hung red dresses along the fence line of the Transmountain Pipeline expansion construction zone.
They likened violence against Indigenous women and girls to violence against the lands and lack of consent on projects such as this, to rape.
Thankfully, no physical altercations broke out between the two groups.
But later that evening I bore witness to a disturbing scene — a white, middle-aged man was furiously ripping down red dresses hung in a patch of trees near the ceremony site.
I drove across the highway from my hotel with my phone in hand to question him.
He was just walking out of the bush when I pulled in.
Heart racing, I asked him what he was doing.
“I’m ripping the garbage out of the trees!” he yelled.
Remembering missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people
By Nickita Longman, University of Manitoba News Today, May 4, 2021
In her studies of the ongoing racist misrepresentations of Indigenous women in Canadian society, University of Manitoba master’s of Native studies student Sarah Olson believes both the media’s and law enforcement’s failure to report countless cases is one of the biggest contributing factors to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) epidemic.
“I grew up knowing that as an Indigenous woman, experiencing violence was going to be a fact of life,” Olson, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation, explains. “I decided to embark on this research because I wanted to understand where the shame I held came from, and why my family and I were more at risk of being victimized.”
Olson’s research focuses on the ways in which Indigenous women are portrayed in Canadian society and media in relation to the crimes committed against them. “The dehumanization of Indigenous Peoples is at the root of MMIWG2S, which means our resurgence is essential to healing and revitalizing our cultures and communities.”
Following 2017’s release of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Knowledge Keeper Leslie Spillett helped form a reading group in the College of Nursing to discuss the executive summary, with the goal of gaining a stronger understanding of the responsibilities the College had in responding and implementing.
“We can only honour the lives of those who have been taken violently by taking concrete and meaningful action that ensures the full equality of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse individuals in our community,” Spillett says.
The reading group was voluntary and invited guest speakers, including the national inquiry’s executive director at the time, Jennifer Moore Rattray, to share experiences and perspectives to encourage post-secondary institutions to advance the Calls to Justice.
Spillett advises that some of the many ways individuals can advocate for MMIWG2S is to become familiar with the 231 Calls to Justice, as well as organizing and hosting university-level conversations that examine gender-based violence and intersectional systems of oppression.
“Engage in community actions like commemoration dates and community vigils while implementing fundamental principles, such as ‘nothing about us without us’ and Indigenous sovereignty as guiding principles to building respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” Spillett adds.
To partake in advocacy work, Vice-President (Indigenous) Catherine Cook invites members of the UM community to wear red on May 5 – the colour red has been chosen to acknowledge MMIWG2S. “We are responsible to bring visibility and awareness to the violence that is being committed against our Indigenous Women and Girls and our communities, and to encourage others to join the fight for systemic change.”
A Proclamation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, 2021
May 04, 2021 • Presidential Actions
Today, thousands of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native Americans continue to cry out for justice and healing. On Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, we remember the Indigenous people who we have lost to murder and those who remain missing and commit to working with Tribal Nations to ensure any instance of a missing or murdered person is met with swift and effective action.
Our failure to allocate the necessary resources and muster the necessary commitment to addressing and preventing this ongoing tragedy not only demeans the dignity and humanity of each person who goes missing or is murdered, it sends pain and shockwaves across our Tribal communities. Our treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribal Nations require our best efforts, and our concern for the well-being of these fellow citizens require us to act with urgency. To this end, our Government must strengthen its support and collaboration with Tribal communities.
My Administration is fully committed to working with Tribal Nations to address the disproportionately high number of missing or murdered Indigenous people, as well as increasing coordination to investigate and resolve these cases and ensure accountability. I am further committed to addressing the underlying causes behind those numbers, including — among others — sexual violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, violent crime, systemic racism, economic disparities, and substance use and addiction. Federal partnerships to address the number of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples will be governed by the Nation-to-Nation foundation of our relationship with Tribal governments and respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-determination. The challenges in Tribal communities are best met by solutions that are informed and shaped by Tribal leaders and Tribal governments.
Red Dress Day ‘near and dear’ to Campbell River woman
By Roxanne Egan-Elliott, May 5, 2021, Times Colonist
For Stephanie Rivers Elickus, a driving force behind the many red dresses hanging along Island highways, Red Dress Day is about reminding people why she hangs those dresses.
Today is National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, or Red Dress Day. The dresses have become a symbol of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in North America.
Violence against Indigenous women and girls is “systemic and a national crisis,” says the Assembly of First Nations, which represents about 900,000 First Nations people in Canada.
Indigenous women and girls are five times more likely to experience violence than any other population in Canada, and Indigenous women make up 16 per cent of all female homicide victims and 11 per cent of missing women, despite representing just 4.3 per cent of the population, the organization says.
May 5 is also a day of personal significance for Elickus — the 29th anniversary of her sister’s murder.
“So this is really important to me. And it’s really near and dear to me that people get their justice, or they get some action,” she said.
Elickus hung 45 red dresses in Campbell River to make a statement marking the day and has planned a vigil in a downtown park to remember the women who never came home.
Elickus said she hung her first red dress in the early 2000s and has placed more than 100 along highways from Victoria to Port Hardy just this year.
With the help of a network of volunteers, dresses have also been hung on the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast.
The red dresses act as a symbol of solidarity and are intended to raise awareness.
When she hangs a dress, Elickus says a prayer and asks the spirits to call the missing women home.
“For me, it’s speaking for the ones that can’t speak anymore, you know, the silenced,” she said.
She started a Facebook page – Lil’ Red Dress Project – this year dedicated to the cause, where she shares stories of women who are missing and photos of red dresses hanging all over the Island, and tries to raise awareness about the meaning behind the dresses.
“There’s still so many that don’t have a clue,” she said.