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On May 5, you may have noticed red dresses and ribbons pop up in windows and trees across the province.
The red dress has significant meaning for me. As the Minister of Indigenous Relations, nothing breaks my heart more than seeing the empty red dresses hung in windows and from trees, representing the all too many Indigenous women and girls who are missing, or have been murdered.
In 2019, I was honoured at a Sisters in Spirit Day vigil with the gift of a beautiful red dress from Josie Nepinak, executive director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society. Along with accepting this gift, made by artist Emily Taylor, I committed that Alberta's government would take action on this tragic reality.
Sadly, during the pandemic there has been a sharp rise in violence toward Indigenous women. In May 2020, 17% reported experiencing domestic violence over a three-month period compared to 10% over a period of 5 years starting in 2014. It is our collective responsibility to turn the tide on this serious and long-standing reality.
That’s exactly why Alberta’s government established the Alberta Joint Working Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, made up of members of the Legislative Assembly and Indigenous women with experience in violence prevention. They are amazing people who put in long hours to set a path for Alberta to take action on recommendations set in the Final Report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
History of Red Dress Day
It was Métis artist Jaime Black who helped inspire the red dress movement.
Her REDdress art installation evolved into the annual Red Dress Day and sparked a grassroots movement across North America – a visual representation of the pain and loss felt by the families of victims and their survivors – shedding light on the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The project was made up of 600 community-donated red dresses, which were later placed in public spaces throughout Winnipeg and across Canada as a reminder of the staggering number of Indigenous women who are no longer with us.
Black chose the colour red after speaking with an Indigenous friend who told her that is the only colour spirits can see. Using it is a way of calling the spirits of missing and murdered women and girls back to their loved ones.
As an artist, her goal was to speak to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women and to evoke a presence by marking absence.
On May 5, people across North America hang red dresses in private and public spaces to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and in solidarity with family members and loved ones.