TORONTO – The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) commemorated what has become known as Red Dress Day, encouraging their staff to wear red and calling on all Canadians to remember.
NWMO issued a press release on May 5, encouraging all Canadians to “reflect on their role in pursuing reconciliation and addressing the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls in this country and around the world.”
National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is a day of reflection and action. This is an ongoing awareness campaign to address the high proportion of Indigenous women, girls, trans, two-spirits, plus (MMIWGT2S+) who are murdered or go missing.
Each year on May 5, Canadians are asked to commemorate the murdered and missing and join the families and relations who grieve for their loved ones in thoughts and prayers.
The hope is to continue to raise awareness of the issues that are faced by Indigenous women and girls every day.
The Native Women’s Resource Centre (NWRC) began creating a database in 2005, which discovered that by 2010, over 580 Indigenous women and girls across Canada were murdered or went missing, according to femicideincanada.ca
To date, the number of murdered or missing Indigenous women and girls is not definite. Reporting these incidents has not been reliable, which is one reason the NWRC began this work.
The NWRC website provided the following statement:
“The United Nations defines violence against women as gender-based violence that can result in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering. Violence can happen in all cultures, religions, and communities. Still, due to Canada's history of colonization, Indigenous women face higher rates of violence than non-Indigenous women. Once held in high regard as leaders and givers of life, Indigenous women are now devalued because of their race and gender. This has led to disproportionately higher rates of experienced violence, spousal assault, family violence, and sexual assault towards Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people.”
The day is called Red Dress Day, after Jaime Black, a Métis artist and art educator, created an art installation that included 600 red dresses.
Each one is “a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us,” Black said in a statement to the University of British Columbia (UBC).
“People are attracted to the dresses and often connect to them before learning what the project is about, what the dresses represent. When they do ask or find out that the dresses represent missing and murdered Aboriginal women in our country they are often overwhelmed,” Black said in an interview with UBC.
“A police officer came on a tour of the installation at the University of Winnipeg and by the end of the tour he had tears in his eyes and he shook my hand for a very long time, thanking me for allowing him to understand these women as women, as loved and valued and missed and not just as statistics. That was one of my proudest moments, that is what I want viewers to take away from viewing the project.”
The campaign included a national inquiry into the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls, including sexual violence.
The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls began in 2015, and the final report was released in 2019.
“The National Inquiry's Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada's staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” preventionconversation.org said.
“Red Dress Day is an important moment for reflection at the NWMO, for all our employees and contractors, and for everyone across Canada. It raises awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and recognizes that violence against Indigenous women is an ongoing problem in Canada that we can’t ignore,” NWMO President and CEO Laurie Swami said.
“It’s been almost two years since the MMIWG inquiry, and it’s on all of us to do more to see the 261 calls to justice implemented.
“At the NWMO, we work hard to do our small part, through training for all staff and contractors and our Reconciliation Policy, which acknowledges Canada’s past and commits to co-create a better future,” she added.
NWMO employees were encouraged to wear red and share photos of themselves and their families taking a moment to mark this important day, the release said.
“It is one of the many ways as an organization we strive to honour our commitment to Reconciliation. The NWMO is also committed to reflecting and better understanding how the ‘calls to justice’ impact our work as we implement our project,” states the press release.
Meggie Cywink is an advocate for the campaign and is a sister to a murdered Indigenous woman. She told Midwestern Newspapers, “after advocating for 23 years I'm a fairly staunch believer in action. It's what we need to end the genocide.”
Sonya-baa Cywink’s body was found on Aug. 30, 1994, at Southwold Earthworks National Historic Site in Elgin County. This site was initially inhabited by the Attiwandaron, a neutral Iroquois nation southwest of London.
According to Meggie, the sisters were to meet up for a Toronto Blue Jays game, but Sonya-baa never showed up. Sonya's body was located 65 kilometres southwest of where she was last seen in London.
Meggie was appointed Special Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General in 2016. She supported the families and loved ones of Indigenous women who have been murdered or are missing.
She has stated that trauma like the one her sister suffered when she was younger makes Indigenous women more vulnerable targets for crime.
Meggie said she feels that politicians should focus more on the families than on promises they can't keep.
Sonya’s murder is still unsolved. Currently there is a $50,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction of those responsible for Sonya's death.
Those with information regarding the murder of Sonya Cywink are being asked to contact Elgin County OPP at 1-888-310-1122. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times