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Red Dress Day: Honouring the Memories of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

YWCA Toronto
YWCA Toronto
May 05, 2023
Categories: Gender-Based Violence 

May 5th marks Red Dress Day, a day of remembrance for the staggering number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit People in Canada. Red Dress Day began as the REDress Project, created by Métis artist Jaime Black in 2010, and was first shown through a display of red dresses at the University of Winnipeg in 2011. The red dresses act as a symbol of the ongoing violence and systemic discrimination faced by Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit People.

Across Turtle Island, the deep seeded roots of colonialism and racism run through society and shape our social structures, disproportionately impacting Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit People. In Canada, while Indigenous people make up  4.3% of the population, Indigenous women make up 16% of all female homicide victims and 11% of missing women. Indigenous women are five times more likely to experience violence than any other population in Canada.

Red Dress Day draws attention to the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit People, and commemorates their stories. CBC News has compiled more than 300 cases across Canada that involve the death or disappearance of Indigenous women and created profiles for each of those women. Many of these cases remain unsolved, with authorities saying they were not due to foul play, but the families of these women say they do not accept the findings of the police. Evidence in many of the aforementioned cases points to suspicious circumstances, which suggests further investigation is warranted, and demands national action. While CBC has covered more than 300 cases, we know that there are thousands more that have gone uncovered.

In 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), released a report: Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This report was created through two years of public hearings and evidence gathering across the country and shares the truths of more than 2,380 family members, survivors, experts and Knowledge Keepers. The report reveals that the root cause of Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people is caused by the persistent and deliberate violation and abuse of the rights of Indigenous people. The report calls for transformative legal and social changes to address and resolve the growing crisis across the country.

Just this week, on May 2nd, the Canadian House of Commons unanimously supported a motion to declare the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls a Canada-wide emergency and to fund a new system that will alert the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or Two-Spirit person goes missing, similar to an Amber Alert. Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still more work to be done.

At YWCA Toronto, to commemorate Red Dress Day, our Elm Housing Complex is hosting a viewing of Our Sisters in Spirit by filmmaker Nick Printup, a documentary shining the spotlight on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Following the screening, participants will have the opportunity to write messages on their own red dress cut-outs and receive a tobacco tie and candle to take home.

Although one day is not enough to honour the lives of missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit People it is an important day to reflect, to honour them and to help amplify their stories and demand justice. We encourage you to wear red today and deepen your understanding of this crisis while bringing further awareness to the need for a concrete plan to end this violence and help create safer communities for Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit People.

If you would like more information on MMIWG2S and violence prevention, consider visiting the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s website.

A free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, independent, national, toll-free support line is also available to provide support for anyone who requires it. The support line is 1-844-413-6649.