REDress event remembers missing and murdered Indigenous gender minorities

This Friday, Feb. 14, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people will be remembered at an event marking REDress Project 2020.

“Hearts of Our Nations: Honouring our Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA community,” is hosted by Brock University’s Student Justice Centre, Human Rights and Equity Office, the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Women’s Campus Safety Grant. It will take place in solidarity with the 29th annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community.

In the run-up to Friday’s event, members of the Brock community can observe the REDress installation around campus. Since 2014, red dresses have been hung in public spaces as a solemn reminder of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“The REDress project is critical to raising awareness about violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” says Robyn Bourgeois, Assistant Professor in the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies and co-organizer of the event.

“It centres the lived realities of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, demands space in colonial Canada for recognition of the lives and deaths of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and forces Canadians to confront Canadian colonial history and their complicity in this violence.”

Earlier this week, a team of volunteers hung nearly 100 red dresses and then laid tobacco at the installation sites, taking a moment to remember the Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people who have been murdered and the impact their loss has had on their communities.

Jane Theriault-Norman has been a student organizer of the REDress installation for the past three years, every year that the project has been held at Brock. In the first year, dresses were borrowed from a collection at McMaster University. Last year, the committee began collecting dresses at thrift shops and via trading web sites and donations.

Theriault-Norman says that with every year, interest in the event grows.

“Every year we get the same general questions about what the dresses represent, but we have also received feedback that the dresses weren’t up long enough in previous years,” says Theriault-Norman. “The Brock community wanted them up longer, so this year, they will remain up for five days.”

People observing the dresses will find information cards to help people learn more about the event and mental health resources for those in need of further support.

“Our hope is that this project will continue to increase awareness regarding the missing and murdered women, girls and two-spirit genocide, as well as work to uplift Indigenous voices on this land,” says Theriault-Norman.

Friday’s event in Pond Inlet runs from 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. and features a keynote address, panel discussion, drumming by the Niagara Women’s Drum Group, a performance by Kendra Rosychuk, a fancy shawl dancer from Sucker Creek in Alberta, and Indigenous food provided by Nish Dish.

The keynote address will be given by Andrea Williams, a Black Indigenous community educator with the Ministry of Education to amplify Indigenous ways of knowing and being within the early learning framework, and by two-spirit drummer and activist Nenookaasi Ogichidaa, who works in the field of mental health and addiction issues.

The discussion panel includes Indigenous student speakers from Brock, Nick Printup and Emily Bagshaw, along with Fallon Farinacci, a member of the family advisory council for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

Bourgeois, who recently shared details of her extensive research in this area with Find The Answer, hopes that people who see the installation this week and attend Friday’s event will take away “a deeper understanding of the violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people and the importance of decolonization to ending this violence.”

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