‘Red Dress Day’ being held at UNFC

Sam Odrowski

Indigenous women go missing and are murdered at a disproportionately higher rate than those who are non-indigenous.

To respect the indigenous women who have been affected, a Day of Remembrance and Honour for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, also known as “Red Dress Day,” is being held on Sunday, May 5 around the country.

On Red Dress Day, people are asked to wear red or hang a red dress in a public place.

Locally, the United Native Friendship Centre will be hosting their own Red Dress Day on May 2 starting at 11 a.m.

The UNFC invites everybody to come to their main building (516 Portage Ave) for a smudge and reflection of remembrance and honour, followed by a free lunch.

The cultural resource worker at the UNFC will be making red skirts for the staff to wear for their event and others are encouraged to wear red as well–if they feel comfortable–to show their support.

Leading up to the event, people can write down the names of women who have gone missing or been murdered on red dress-shaped paper cutouts at the reception area of the UNFC building.

This is meant to “create a space for people to come and physically honour people that they know,” noted Kathy Foy of the UNFC.

So far over 30 names have been written onto the red dress cutouts and put up on the walls.

Foy said there’s still more coming in everyday.

UNFC indigenous mental health and wellness worker Pam Rittau said it’s important to note that this is all done in a culturally-safe place.

Red dresses are currently hung up around the entrance of the UNFC building and stairs leading up to reception.

These were donated by the Salvation Army and Curvy Chick to help support the initiative.

The red dress has become a symbol for the thousands of indigenous woman who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada, often with suspicious circumstances of their disappearance that go uninvestigated by law enforcement.

“It’s really just to bring that awareness,” Foy said. “There hasn’t been as much attention, so what we want to do is really create that.”

Rittau said the issue of a indigenous women disproportionately going missing and being murdered has been “neglected” in the past.

The exact number of indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered since the 1970 is not entirely known but estimates range from 1,000 to 4,000.

Indigenous women are also seven times more likely to be victims of homicide, according to Statistics Canada

The Red Dress Project originated out of Winnipeg when Métis artist Jamie Black collected hundreds of dresses through community donations and had them set up on display as a visual reminder of the number of indigenous women who are missing and have been murdered.

In addition to raising awareness for missing and murdered women, the project is also meant to highlight the documented history of police mistreating criminal investigations involving First Nations people.

In December, this issue was put on the spotlight locally as the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) had a systemic review done by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) that determined the force had significant deficiencies in sudden death investigations involving indigenous individuals.

These significant deficiencies were due in part to racial stereotyping and the OIPRD also found that systemic racism exists at an institutional level within the TBPS.

Foy is hoping the UNFC’s Red Dress Day event has a strong turnout and helps to put the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women on the forefront people’s minds.

“I think the better the numbers, the more support that we can offer each other and the general population of urban aboriginals who will be attending,” she remarked.

“We also have a number of support staff available if anybody would like to debrief or even discuss one to one afterwards.”

Rittau, meanwhile, would like to remind everybody that the Friendship Centre is for everyone and all are welcome there.

“You don’t have to be a woman and you don’t have to be an indigenous individual, first of all, to come through the doors here at the friendship centre; and second of all, to attend this event,” she said.

“You don’t need to be touched personally by this if you want to come and just be supportive to your fellow people.”