Red dresses symbolize those who have been lost to violence in this now annual installation in Duncan. (Citizen file)

Red dresses go up in Duncan as ‘art turned protest’

Cowichan Tribes is hosting their 1st Annual Walk for Missing and Murdered Men, Women and Children.

By Kendra Thomas

The REDress Project, which will be having an installation in Duncan Saturday, is an “art-turned-protest” display created in 2010 by Métis artist Jaime Black as a representation of the Indigenous women and girls lost to violent crime and as a call for action to prevent future violence.

“An empty garment of clothing operates as a marker for those who are no longer with us,” explains Black.

Indigenous women and girls in Canada are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence. Although Indigenous women make up four per cent of Canada’s female population, 16 per cent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were Indigenous — an alarming overrepresentation. In 2014 RCMP identified a total of 1,181 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Numerous other reports and studies on violence towards Indigenous women in Canada have identified underlying causes like poverty, homelessness, racism, sexism, the legacy of colonization and the devastation caused by the residential school system.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has been determining a strategy for how best to move forward. The mission is to learn the truth by honouring the lives and legacies of Indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBTQ2S community and encompasses three goals: finding the truth, honouring the truth, and giving life to the truth as a path to healing.

“Publicly displaying a symbolic red dress invites local conversation about this issue,” said Kendra Thomas, program coordinator for Warmland Women’s Support Services Society. “Fluttering red dresses cause us to reflect deeply upon the levels of violence and marginalization of Indigenous women in a country wealthy in civil rights. Perhaps it’s the fluttering spirits of the women who call us to action to seek peace and resolution.”

Timed to be in support of the annual Stolen Sisters marches across the country, the Cowichan Valley REDress Project is an action of Returning Stolen Dignity. Also, Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. Cowichan Tribes is hosting their 1st Annual Walk for Missing and Murdered Men, Women and Children. The march will proceed directly past the REDress Project on its way to Siem Lelum gym for speakers, including three chiefs, discussion on the issues facing Aboriginal people in B.C. and a luncheon. There will be performances by the Tzinquaw Dancers and pow wow dancing by Joe Thorne. People are encouraged to wear Cowichan sweaters, shawls and bring drums.

“The power is in our community to be gracious, to be kind, to be generous of heart and spirit… we have the capacity to make change in the Cowichan Valley,” said Thomas.

The 3rd annual REDress Project will be on display in Charles Hoey Park, Saturday, Feb. 10 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. with a community prayer circle at 9:30. Info 250-710-8177 or kthomas@warmlandwomen.org

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