On May 5, 2022, “Red Dress Day,” Riverside students and teachers created an outdoor display in the drive-through and organized a drum procession to raise awareness of the disproportionate violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people across Canada. The event aimed to commemorate the victims murdered over the past decades and provide a visual reminder to keep those missing front in mind.

One of the red dresses in front of the school.

Over two dozen red dresses were suspended from the trees along the school’s drive-through; each accompanied by a laminated image and description of a victim. Red dresses have become a symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous women since the Winnipeg Métis artist, Jaime Black, launched her ongoing art series titled The REDress Project in 2010. Her installation art project has appeared in many public spaces throughout Canada and the United States. This year, Riverside’s Anti-Racism Club, English First Peoples 12, and Social Justice 12 classes were inspired by the cause and joined hands to support this important activism. Many students and teachers also dressed in red to show their solidarity.

English teacher Erin Tate, who spearheaded the event, explained the significance of the colour red in Indigenous cultures. “[Red] is said to be the colour the spirits and ancestors see clearly, and it allows the missing and murdered Indigenous women to be shown that we are caring, that we are bringing awareness to this issue,” said Tate. It is also the collective hope of many Indigenous groups to use the colour to call their missing sisters and daughters home and lay them to rest.

Many students and community members engaged with the display and read the victims’ information pinned to the red dresses. Tate stated that these image cards were made to restore the missing spirits’ well-deserved identities and dignity.

I volunteered to help out and lead because I can make myself unforgettable. I can make those women unforgettable.
Mara Julian

“One of the problems with the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is that they are often seen to be nameless and faceless, partly because of the response over the last many years by the authorities, the police, and Canadians in general,” said Tate.

In addition to the red dress display, Kwikwetlam First Nation’s cultural advisor, Nancy Joe, also led a drum procession before school started on May 5, 2022. Participants sang the “Women’s Warrior Song,” the anthem composed by Lil’wat elder Martina Pierre in honour of the missing and murdered Indigenous women across all nations. According to Tate, guest Nancy Joe was crucial in reinforcing the context and reciprocity with Indigenous communities during the event.

Social Justice teacher Caroline Ross further clarified the impact of colonization on the ongoing epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people.

“Ideologically, colonialism and the implementation of European culture in Canada resulted in a loss of rights and power for Indigenous women. Assimilation policies and legislation such as the Indian Act changed the role of women in families and communities. Institutions and systems that have been created as a result of colonization are rampant with systemic racism. Interpersonal relationships between men and women and between different ethnic groups have devalued the role of Indigenous women in families, communities, and society,” said Ross.

Mara Julian, a Grade 11 student with an Indigenous background, welcomes the school’s efforts in educating the community as a step toward reconciliation. She joined the memorial march and led the drum procession alongside guest Nancy Joe to honour the lost lives, build awareness of the undue unsolved cases, and support the rights of Indigenous women.

“I volunteered to help out and lead because I can make myself unforgettable. I can make those women unforgettable,” said Julian.

The “Red Dress Day,” officially known as the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), is observed across Canada as a response to the Call to Action 41 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. The advocates of the movement continue to demand concrete actions from the governments and law enforcement agencies to end gender-based violence that has plagued Indigenous communities disproportionally.

If you missed the event or want to rewatch the highlights, a video made by grade 12 Dzenan Jauzovic is available here. Resources are available at school for emotional support and counselling.