On Wednesday, October 4, 2017, the Salt Spring community will come together to honour the National Day of Remembrance for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls by hanging red dresses in the trees of Centennial Park. A 2014 police report counted the number of Indigenous women murdered or missing in the last three decades as 1,200. Research by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, as well as activists within Indigenous communities, suggests the number is closer to 4,000.
The REDress Project is based on an installation art project created by Winnipeg metis multidisciplinary artist Jaime Black in 2010 as an aesthetic response to the critical national issue of Murdered or Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. Noticing how a lot of families who had lost loved ones didn’t have a way to have their voices heard, Black began the project to make the issue more public.
Typically worn as a statement piece, to turn heads and make a woman feel like she’s on top of the world, Black made it into an artistic statement and a symbol of violence against Aboriginal women. Black also chose the colour red because it represents the women of the red nation, life blood, and the woman’s ability to give life.
The 2010 project collected 600 red dresses by community donation that were installed in public spaces throughout Winnipeg and across Canada as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women no longer with us. Drawing attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women, the red dresses moving in the breeze are evocative; they are meant to suggest a presence through the marking of absence.
Reports by Amnesty International show that violence against Indigenous women and girls is pervasive, taking place in the home and in the streets of Canadian cities. and that the perpetrators include Indigenous and non-Indigenous men alike. Young Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence.
Black hopes the red dresses will support people to critically think about the issue. Many attest to how powerful it is to see the dresses hanging. When you walk by them it feels like you are walking by someone but no one is in them. It’s a very visceral reminder of these women. Her project has gone public and communities across Canada now hang red dresses yearly on October 4th.
On Wednesday October 4th, community members are invited to bring a red dress and hang it in Centennial Park anytime after 12pm. Salt Springers can also signal their support by hanging red dresses at the end of their driveways. Local businesses are encouraged to display red dresses in their shop windows. The community will gather in Centennial Park for a vigil at 6:30pm to express their grief and share their concern.
By Ahava Shira