Red dresses call spirits of MMIWG home

Current Art Gallery exhibit showcases the disappearance and murders of Indigenous women with an array of artistic expression

Red dresses hung from the ceiling in various shades of red representing the hundreds of women and girls lost to unnecessary violence. (Mithran Akattutu/The Omega)

In honour of all the Indigenous Missing and Murder Women and Girls, the TRU Art Gallery is hosting an exhibit to initiate and encourage conversations around the extreme violence and abuse Indigenous women face.

On Oct. 4, TRU’s Art Gallery opened The Red Dress Project honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) as a part of Jaime Black’s ongoing art series.

The exhibit began with a prayer ceremony by Tk’emlúps the Secwépmc Elder, Jo Ann Gottfriedson, in the presence of guest speaker Dr. Mukwa Musayett. It also featured singers, drummers and red dress dancers.

The project originated from the need to raise awareness about murdered and missing indigenous women, and to start having an open, meaningful conversation about this issue. The initiative also focuses on shedding light on the life of those who fell victims to the past. The exhibit is open until Oct. 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is located at the Art Gallery in Old Main.

This work is a collaboration between TRU Indigenous Education, the Faculty of Arts, TRU’s Art Gallery and the Faculty of Education and Social Work. The dresses have been donated by students, faculty and the Kamloops community. Local artists along with visual arts students wanting to honour MMIWG also showcased their work in the exhibit.

The gallery is filled with red dresses hanging from the ceiling, each representing hundreds of Indigenous women and girls that go missing or are murdered every year which acts as a wake-up call for the community.

On one of the walls, people are encouraged to write on papers that are shaped as dresses and hands. Some people share a prayer or a wish for peace, while others mourn their lost loved ones.

Heartbreaking messages like “Missing Samantha, loving you always. From your heavenly eyes watch over all your family, Auntie Di” and “Debbie Trorson, a great friend taken too soon. A loving sister and daughter, I remember you” opens people’s eyes to the harsh reality of First nation’s women. 

For many Indigenous people, red is the only colour spirits can see which symbolizes calling these women back home to their loved ones where they can finally be in peace. In Canada, May 5 is marked as the Red Dress Day, where people are encouraged to wear the colour, in honour of the victims and to raise awareness.

According to the RCMP,  the homicide rate for indigenous women is four times higher than any category in Canada. Unfortunately, these statistics are consistent with the level of violence against the First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls in Canada.

Even with ten years of MMIWG spreading the message around the country, the numbers keep on increasing.

Kairos Canada has shared a list of actions non-indigenous people should do to support Indigenous women. By informing yourself, signing petitions and listening to those affected you can begin to take part in the solutions.

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