Red dresses send sombre message

The Warmland Women’s Support Services Society is seeking donations of red dresses

The Warmland Women’s Support Services Society is seeking donations of red dresses for what promises to be a striking representation of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

On Feb. 14, the society will hang red dresses from trees in Charles Hoey Park in downtown Duncan as part of the REDress project, which both honours and draws attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“Publicly hanging a symbolic red dress invites local conversation about this issue,” said Warmland Women’s Support Services program coordinator Kendra Thomas.

“Red is a striking colour and an empty dress hanging from a barren tree has a haunting visual impact. It is a bleak reminder of the tragedy of horrendously devalued Indigenous women. We must not forget them or their story.”

The REDress Project is an “art-turned-protest display created in 2010 by Métis artist Jaime Black to represent First Nations women and girls who have been victims of violence, and as a call to action to prevent future violence. The project has been displayed in public spaces across the country including the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. “An empty garment of clothing operates as a marker for those who are no longer with us,” Black has stated.

Although Indigenous women make up four pre cent of Canada’s female population, 16 per cent of women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were Indigenous. In 2014 RCMP identified a total of 1,181 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Aside from a prayer circle at 9:30 a.m., the Feb. 14 display will proceed quietly.

“There will be no speakers or a public address of any kind but rather a silent vigil of red dresses,” Thomas said.

The one-day display in Duncan will coincide with the annual Stolen Sisters March in Vancouver.

The REDress project is happening with the support of the Hiiye’yu Lelum House of Friendship, Cowichan Tribes, the City of Duncan and WINGS thrift store.

“The City of Duncan is honoured to support the efforts to raise awareness of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in this very visually artistic and stirring exhibit,” Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said.

“Cowichan Tribes want to acknowledge the important work the REDress project is doing to raise awareness in our community,” Cowichan Tribes Chief William C. Seymour said. “Like so many other communities, we have lost women to violence and we feel the impact of that loss every day.”

Donated dresses can be dropped off at WINGS (193 Station St.) Monday to Friday between noon and 4 p.m., or Charles Hoey Park on Feb. 14, 9 a.m.