Red dresses along University Avenue serve as important reminder of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people

The warm yet breezy air took on an important role as it caused the red dresses hung along University Avenue in Kingston to playfully dance in the wind, drawing more attention, and evoking the spirit of the many Indigenous women, children, and two-spirit people no longer with us.

A red dress of Jamie Black’s REDress project, created to offer a visual representation of the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people (MMIWG2S), catches the warmth of the spring sun as it gently sways in the wind on National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit People, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Photo by Emily Elliott.

The red dresses were hung from lamp posts along University Avenue on Thursday, May 5, 2022, to represent the national commemoration of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit (gender diverse) people (MMIWG2S), also known as Red Dress Day, which takes place every May 5. Queen’s University has marked this day with an installation of Métis artist Jaime Black’s REDress project.

The REDress project is a visualization of the staggering number of Indigenous women, children and two-spirit people who have been murdered or remain to be found. Black says that through the installation he hopes to, “draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.”

Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill leads the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation at Queen’s University. She is grateful for the University’s participation in this annual event and thinks that people should be using this commemoration to educate themselves, she explains.

“It’s important to understand that these women, they were our sisters, our daughters, our mothers. They were somebody’s wife, they were aunties, they were cousins, they were friends… I want people to understand that these women are not just statistics, they are those important women in our families and in our communities,” says Hill.

A row of red dresses fade into the distance alongside Nixon Field on Queen’s University campus to act as a reminder of the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people of Canada. Photo by Emily Elliott.

From 2005 to 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)’s Sisters In Spirit (SIS) Initiative confirmed 582 cases of missing and/or murdered Indigenous women and girls over a span of 20 years and worked to raise awareness of this human rights issue. Additionally, according to a 2021 RCMP report, 1,017 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012 — a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada.

As mass graves continue to be found at residential schools across the country, Hill says that the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and gender diverse people are a “continuation of those acts of genocide.”

Hill also points to the efforts that the University has made to make the campus a safer and more inclusive space for Indigenous Peoples. As well as specific services for faculty, staff, and students, such as the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, last year, the school approved an Indigenous Studies program that looks at current issues that are faced by Indigenous Peoples.

The dresses were removed from University Avenue Thursday evening in a proactive effort to protect the project, but will be hung again on May 12, which marks the Moose Hide Campaign Day. The day invites all Canadians to take a stand against violence towards Indigenous women and children. Men and boys, as well as all Canadians, are encouraged to fast from sunrise to sunset to deepen their experience, as well as to resolve to create safe families, communities, and a safe country for all women and children.

Red dress dot the streetscape out front of Grant Hall on National Day of Awareness for MMIWG2S. Photo by Emily Elliott.

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