Today, May 5th is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2Spirited folks (MMIWG2S+) or often called, Red Dress Day. The purpose of Red Dress Day is to honour the lives of Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks who have been murdered or gone missing, and to raise awareness about the systemic violence and discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples. The statistics are heart-wrenching: according to a 2019 report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, there are at least 4,000 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks in Canada alone, and yet, these numbers are likely much higher due to underreporting and incomplete data.
One of the most powerful symbols of Red Dress Day is the red dress itself. The colour red has deep significance in many Indigenous cultures, symbolizing the life-giving power of blood and representing one of the only colours a spirit can see. Métis artist Jamie Black recognized the power of the red dress to draw attention to the crisis of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks, and created the REDress Project in 2010 which inspired this important day. Jamie collected hundreds of empty red dresses and hung them in public spaces across Canada to honour the lives of those who have been lost and to call for action to address the ongoing crisis of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks.
As the REDress Project gained national attention, it inspired others to take action as well. Today, people across Turtle Island are hanging red dresses in their windows, front yards, and public spaces as a symbol of solidarity with Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks, and as a reminder of the ongoing crisis of violence and discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples. This act of bearing witness is a powerful way to honour the lives of those who have been lost and to bring dignity to their memory.
But Red Dress Day is not just a one-day event. It is a reminder of the long-haul journey we are all on, as Indigenous peoples and as allies, to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks. This journey involves self-reflection, healing, reconciliation, truth-telling, agency, and empowerment. It involves challenging the systemic racism and sexism that perpetuate violence against Indigenous peoples and advocating for justice and accountability for those who have been lost.
We all have a role to play in this work, whether it’s hanging a red dress in our window and starting a conversation, learning more about the history and ongoing impacts of colonialism, or supporting Indigenous-led initiatives to address violence and promote healing. As we honour the lives of those who have been taken from us, let us also commit ourselves to the ongoing work of creating a world where Indigenous women, girls, and 2Spirited folks can live in safety and with dignity.
Partner and Senior Landscape Designer at Narratives Inc.