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Red Dress campaign raises awareness

Sarah Burns Photo

Masha Scheele

Many conversations sparked around the red dresses that appeared across town on Friday, Oct. 4.

The red dresses blowing in the wind were a reminder of the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada since 1980, according to police reports, and part of the REDdress project.

The project was started by Winnipeg-based Métis artist Jaime Black in 2010 and is an aesthetic response to this critical national issue. Black is an emerging, Metis multidisciplinary artist, who attempts to create dialogue around social and political issues through her artwork.

Since then, Sisters in Spirit honours the memory of those women and girls in Canada every October 4 with vigils and events.

The dresses were part of the event and each dress served as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are missing and murdered.

The artist hoped to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against indigenous women. This was the fourth annual event of its kind hosted by the Hinton Friendship Centre, who hung the red dresses up in places across the community.

Indigenous dancers and drummers performed for people in attendance at Green square.

“Jingle dancers are significant in that it’s a healing dance. That’s why we have them,” said Lisa Higgerty, program manager at the Hinton friendship centre.

In the past, they’ve had family members with missing loved ones speak at the event.

“We would’ve liked to see more people out, especially with the social media comments we got on the red dress campaign on Facebook,” said Jennifer Kelley, health support worker at the Friendship Centre.

This is the third year red dresses were displayed in Hinton and even though they’ve received a lot of support, many people still didn’t know what the significance of the red dress was, explained Kelley.

The red dresses mark the absence of the women who are no longer with their loved ones.

“It’s good when people ask what it is, because that’s raising awareness on the issue as well,” said Higgerty.

Questions popped up on social media about the dresses and what they meant on Friday.

“The best answer came from an indigenous youth, Shelby Bambrick, she really explained it well. Her family is part of the friendship centre, so it’s good to see. The more we are out there the more education there is. People are more able to respond to racism, and displaced anger,” said Higgerty.

Even though the day is about recognizing the indigenous women and girls that are missing, the event also acknowledges missing and murdered women from the area who aren’t necessarily indigenous, added Higgerty.

“There are a lot of non-indigenous women that have gone missing along this highway,” she said.

“It’s really about profiling indigenous women because they don’t get investigated as heavily.”

Another big issue is that missing indigenous women sometimes go unreported, she added.

“People think they’re just missing and they’ll come back,” she said. “They deem [Hinton] the start of the Highway of Tears. So this corridor is one of the highest for women and indigenous women that have gone missing.”

Kelley and Higgerty stressed that this can really happen and affect anyone, no matter their socio-economic status, race, age, or background.

“It doesn’t see race, doesn’t see economy. It’s just opportunity. That’s the biggest thing,” said Higgerty.

The Friendship Centre holds a group each week for the families of missing and murdered women and girls, as well as a therapeutic program in Edson and Hinton.

Mayor Marcel Michaels declared Oct. 4 as missing and murdered indigenous women and girls honouring and awareness day to be acknowledged every year in Hinton.