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Red dress exhibits mark National Day of Awareness for MMIWG2S

Brandy Stanovich says she got overwhelmed when she hung up a little red dress representing a young girl for an exhibit at the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) office in Gatineau, Que.

“That’s a tough one there when you think about the children, because our children are the future and then it’s taken away from them,” said Stanovich, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) manager at NWAC.

“It’s taken away from us and that should never be.”

In the exhibit for the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit people on May 5, the hanging red dresses represent a lost or stolen Indigenous sister.

In addition to the red dress display, NWAC will host speakers, a faceless doll workshop, drumming, and the unveiling of a new painting by Lynne Groulx titled A Woman Not in This World. 

Marc Miller, minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations, will be in attendance and the day’s events will be livestreamed.

“Even if you’re not here, you could still hear those songs and that will give you a little bit of comfort in knowing that you’re not alone,” said Stanovich.

Photo of circular window with paper dolls, paper red hands and paintings in the background.
Part of the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s exhibit in the vault exhibition space at its new head office in Gatineau, Que. (NWAC)

In Hamilton, the city’s Urban Indigenous Strategy and the Hamilton Public Library are co-hosting an event titled, “We’re going Missing” which will have MMIWG2S family members in attendance as well as supports for family, friends and those affected.

Shelly Hill, senior project manager for the Urban Indigenous Strategy, said events like this are important to highlight the calls for justice outlined in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, particularly those for governments to develop laws, policies and public education.

“We grieve in many ways,” Hill said, noting exhibits can be triggering for some.

“It depends where people are at in their healing journeys.”

Torn and dirty, red baby dress.
Each red dress in the Hamilton library exhibit represents the story of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirit person. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

January Marie Rogers of Six Nations, Ont., said she won’t be attending any events this year on May 5 although she and her mother have in the past.

“I’ve never really enjoyed the red dress or the red painted hand on the face because that reminds me too much of the blood in my sister’s apartment when we went to go collect her things,” Rogers said.

Her sister was stabbed to death in Chicago in August 2013.

Red dress with tire tracks across it and another with handprints on the front covering breasts and genitals.
The exhibit runs May 1–19 at the central library in Hamilton. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

“Where I want to put my energy is having personal relationships with women,” she said.

“Let’s encourage each other, let’s empower one another so that we are not put in a position where we are vulnerable, where we’re not valued, where we’re prey.”

Although she supports events in honour of the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG2S, Rogers said there also needs to be action where awareness is most needed.

“Take those rallies to the front door of the abusers and the murderers,” she said. 

“Take that rally to the front steps of the courthouses where these murderers are acquitted.”

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