Honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
⭐️HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW⭐️
- CONTENT WARNING: This story contains information about violence against Indigenous women and girls. Consider reading it with a trusted adult. It’s common to have an emotional reaction to the news.
- It’s Red Dress Day, which honours missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
- The day began in 2010 and was inspired by a project by a Métis artist.
- Red dresses are hung from windows, trees and other public spaces.
- Read on to find out who started it. ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️
Today, people all across Canada will try to give a voice to those who no longer have one.
Red Dress Day, first observed in 2010, happens every May 5.
The goal of the day is to honour and bring awareness to the thousands of Indigenous women and girls, and two-spirit people who have gone missing or who have been murdered.
How Red Dress Day began
Red Dress Day was inspired in 2010 by Jamie Black, a Métis artist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Black hung hundreds of empty red dresses in public places to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and to bring awareness to the issue.
In a YouTube interview with Smithsonian, Black said the idea was to confront people with the violence that women are experiencing, and to create a space for women to tell their stories.
A statue of George Vancouver, a British coloniser, holds a red dress during a memorial for Red Dress Day at City Hall in Vancouver in 2021. (Image credit: Ben Nelms/CBC)
“The chances are that if you know an Indigenous person, they’re related to someone who’s gone missing or murdered, that’s how common this is,” said Lori Campbell, associate vice-resident for Indigenous engagement at the University of Regina.
“We say the spirits that have passed see bright colours the best, red in particular. So hanging the red dresses helps lost spirits find their way home to their loved ones,” said Campbell, who is Métis-Cree.
According to a report published by the RCMP in 2014, 1,017 women and girls who identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012 — a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada.
When the report was released, the minister for the status of women and the Native Women’s Association of Canada both said that due to a lack of data, the number was likely closer to 4,000.
Why are so many Indigenous women and girls missing?
Fast forward to 2020, the murder rate for that year was more than five times higher for Indigenous women compared with non-Indigenous women, according to a report by Statistics Canada.
People attend a memorial for Red Dress Day at city hall in Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 5, 2022. (Image credit: Ben Nelms/CBC)
Campbell said this violence stems from a racist history in Canada.
“[Indigenous people] are sometimes thought of as less than and not as valuable as other women and girls, so people still to this day target Indigenous women because they think they won’t be missed.”
On top of that, she said, there’s a history of these crimes not being investigated as thoroughly, or at all, sometimes being chalked up to the idea that these women have just run away.
“Because that’s common and known, people have targeted us, knowing they can get away with it,” she said.
A national inquiry
In 2016, the Canadian government launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The inquiry released its final report on June 3, 2019 titled Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In total, 231 calls to justice were developed from the inquiry to help change the situation, including pathways to make sure police respond more quickly and conduct more thorough investigations.
In June 2020, the RCMP issued a statement reaffirming its “commitment to improving relationships with Indigenous communities, supporting survivors and families, and ensuring that investigations are robust, professional and result in justice for the victims and their families.”
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