Via Aya Hafeda
When entering Dawson college from the metro entrance, all faces are welcomed by the red flowing dresses hung up with cords. What is the meaning behind the installation, and why are they all soaked in red?
In 2010, artist and activist Jaime Black created an art installation called the “REDress Project.” Black is of Finnish and Anishinaabe descent, a kindred of various First Nations individuals who live around the great lakes region of the United States and Canada. This ongoing 13-year-old project consists of displaying various red dresses by hanging them up in diverse settings. According to the artist’s website, her “art practice engages in themes of memory, identity, place and resistance.” Each gown represents a missing Indigenous woman across the continent of America. Although the display started as an exhibition in Seaforth Peace Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, people began hanging their own red dresses in support of the case and to raise awareness about the issue as well. They have been seen in parks, forests, exhibitions, and educational institutions.
According to Amnesty International, Indigenous women in Canada are “3 times more likely to experience violence, and at least 6 times more likely to be murdered than any other woman or girl in Canada.” They furthermore state that “This violence is a national human rights crisis and it must stop.” The CBC also conducted research by creating a diagram, including the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. They state on their website that “CBC News found evidence in many of the cases that point to suspicious circumstances, unexplained bruises, and other factors that suggest further investigation is warranted.”
After not receiving the support needed, an operation called Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) was put in place. This organisation’s objective is to create a voice for the widespread murders committed against Indigenous women across the continent of America.
Jessica Quijano is a social work technician at Dawson College. Quijano, along with her team, established the Red Dress Project on the school campus. “We decided, at the college, that we wanted to raise some social awareness and also to have a visual at the college to commemorate the women who have gone missing and to, as well, continue to put pressure on governments to end this crisis.”
When asked why this installation was necessary, she states that “It’s really important that social awareness is brought about education so that the population of non-indigenous can stand in solidarity with the indigenous community.” The technician additionally mentions the importance of pressing any local governments, regardless of their ranks in political power, to put the 231 recommendations of the national inquiry in motion. This list was published six years ago by MMIW and includes a list of suggestions on how to aid Indigenous women in their emergency state.
“Just being educated on the issue is really important,” says Quijano. She furthermore highlights the importance of being aware of the issue at Dawson College: “Here, we have a unique situation where a lot of homeless Indigenous people hang out at Atwater and Cabot square – and those are often the women that go missing and who are murdered.” She enhances the importance of building a community and reaching out to them by offering them something as effortless as saying “hi” or offering them coffee. A small gesture like this can ensure a step forward in protecting Indigenous women in Montreal.
On June 3rd, 2022, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement following a report that was published by The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In his statement, Trudeau stated that “Our justice system has failed Indigenous Peoples”. He furthermore added: “We need to acknowledge and confront these truths to respond to the Inquiry’s Calls for Justice and move forward together to empower Indigenous women […] The Government of Canada is committed to making the transformative change necessary to end this tragedy.” Following their promises to make the necessary changes to accommodate the urging case, the Federal Government of Canada adopted a national action plan in 2021, acknowledging once more the ongoing crisis. Despite the recognition, changes are still not occurring, and the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women is only increasing.
Jessica shares as final thoughts: “it’s something that's ongoing- it’s a crisis that's ongoing and it's only through political will that it’s going to change.” She calls Montreal citizens one last time to state that “It’s really up to the population to put that pressure.” If a change is to be made, it has to come from within the people and their yearning to advocate and fight for the Indigenous community in Canada.