Red dress vigil held in Chatham

·3 min read

First Nation elder and knowledge keeper Theresa Sims says she could have easily become one of the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada (MMIWG).

As a 14-year-old walking home from school, she was attacked and raped by members of the high school football team.

“I was choked until I passed out,” Sims said. “Then they threw me in an alley on top of a pile of trash.

“I was almost one of those,” she added, referencing the nation’s MMIWG. “It took me a month and a half to get my voice back.”

Sims, who has shared her stories and knowledge across Turtle Island, didn’t let the experience defeat her.

Instead she became a leader and healer, working in various capacities – including Canada’s prisons – to help Indigenous women find their way back to true power.

“Women are the backbone who carry the strength of community,” Sims told the gathering. “Women are touched by Creator to create life.

“They are the heart of Mother Earth.”

Sims, a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, was among those who shared their stories and songs at Chatham’s first-ever Red Dress Vigil May 5.

Held at the Bleak House on King Street, the event coincided with the Canada-wide National Red Dress Day held to honour Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing.

The annual event began in 2010 in response to an art exhibit by Metis artist Jaime Black. The REDress installation at the University of Winnipeg featured empty red dresses to mark the lives of Indigenous women lost.

Studies show Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately targeted as victims of domestic and sexual violence. According to 2019 statistics from the Assembly of First Nations, Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victimized by violence than non-Indigenous women.

When it comes to murder, homicides involving Indigenous females are four times higher than those of non-Indigenous females.

Two members of the Chatham-Kent Police Service attended the open mic vigil.

Sgt. Lynette Hodder called the event a sad, yet happy occasion.

“I’m sad for the reason that we are here,” Hodder told the crowd, “but happy too, as we are coming together as a community to create change for good.”

Around 60 people attended the vigil, listening to various speakers, in addition to drummers and singers, as an assortment of red dresses floated on the lawn.

Drummer Naomi Wilson urged the crowd to look to the trees.

“The red dresses are spirits flowing in the wind,” Wilson said.

Ska:na Family Learning Centre executive director Faith Hale told the crowd that people need to make time to “listen to the stories of women.

“Know your neighbour and create relationships,” Hale added, noting that making time to hear others can make all the difference.

“Violence against women has no face, colour or income,” Hale said.

Sims reminded everyone that singing the songs and drumming “heals our people.”

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice

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