Though it began as an art installation, the red dresses of the REDress Project have come to symbolize all the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.
That was the point, really.
When artist Jamie Black first conceived of the idea, she wanted to find a way to “evoke a presence through the marking of absence,” to show the form of the women and girls who should still be here, who should still wear the red dresses that now serve as their memorial.
That project and installation has now become The REDress Campaign, one that is marked for the last six years with remembrances at the Laurentian University Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre (ISLC).
This year, they will again honour the campaign, but as with every other event these days, they’ve had to find a way to go virtual. While that initially posed some issues, ISLC Events and Media Co-ordinator Amy Commanda said it also brought the chance to involve those who may not have the opportunity to engage in the event normally, and that they plan to partially include this new virtual method into their planning.
“Virtual events are arguably a lot less personal,” said Commanda. “(They) can be a barrier when it comes to including spiritual and cultural practices such as smudging. But moving forward, we are definitely looking at balancing a more hybrid approach for our events and workshops to increase accessibility and impact.”
This year, the event will begin with Elder Martina Osawamick of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.
“We've been very blessed to have Martina share some of the knowledge and teachings she carries on many different aspects of Anishinaabe culture with students at Laurentian,” said Commanda. “She was also one of the nookmisak (grandmothers) who were invited to speak last year about the impact within Indigenous families of losing a loved one and about the experience of the resulting grief and loss.”
And the special guest speaker, Fallon Farinacci, will share her story, as she did when she testified during the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She will also speak to what she feels is a lack of action on the federal government’s part to implement the 231 calls to justice within the inquiry’s final report.
“We are honoured to have Fallon Farinacci speak at this year's event and share her powerful story of trauma and loss,” said Commanda. “It is a story that highlights the continued reality that Indigenous people's lives are still being taken due to racialized systemic practices and violence perpetrated against them. Fallon was chosen as an important changemaker and role model for the current generation, in addition to our focus on promoting more voices and perspectives from the Métis community.”
Commanda said the event is open to anyone (the viewing information can be found at the end of this article) and that the ISLC and their partners hope it brings the opportunity for others to further educate themselves on the continuing issues that affect Indigenous people.
But in addition to that, “the campaign creates a space for Indigenous voices and experiences to be prioritized and heard on vital issues regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls during a time where voices are still being silenced,” said Commanda. “Storytelling has always been a powerful core component of this campaign because it is through sharing our collective experiences that we can acknowledge and connect to the humanity that we share together.”
And in addition to the time to honour Indigenous women and girls, Commanda also hopes those who attend the REDress Campaign will consider the annual and upcoming Moose Hide campaign, taking place this year on Feb. 26. The yearly event seeks to support men as they stand up against violence towards women and children by taking a pledge and fasting for the day.
“We also invite various speakers and Elders to share the teachings they carry in regard to men's and women's roles and responsibilities, fasting, and other important knowledge in order to help support people in moving towards a more balanced and harmonious way of living free from violence,” said Commanda. “We encourage everyone to wear a moose hide square in solidarity with this important cause.”
Learn more about the Moose Hide Campaign here.
You can take part in the Virtual REDress Campaign by visiting ISLC on Facebook or on the event page.
Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com