No more stolen sisters

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Last weekend, May 5, was Red Dress Day, or REDress Day, as it was originally known. It was a day to remember and honour the incredibly high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. It may be that people are getting a little jaded with all the special days of Orange, Red, Green and other coloured memorial days, but it is important that we not allow the issues at the core of these days of remembrance to be forgotten. So, it is worth discussing them again, even after the “day” itself has passed, to take them out of an artificial context and keep them before us on a more regular basis.

A participant holds a placard with words ‘No More Stolen Sisters!!’.
Hundreds of women participated in the annual Red Dress Day march in downtown Edmonton, hosted by Project REDress, commemorating the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls across Canada.
On Thursday, 5 May 2022, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Accounts show that the roots of Red Dress Day can be traced back to the powerful art project of Canadian Métis artist Jaime Black in 2010, when the “REDress Project” was initiated as a visual reminder of the staggering number of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. Red dresses were hung in public spaces, from trees to lamp posts, creating a stark contrast against the landscape, evoking both sorrow and resilience. What started as an art installation soon morphed into a movement. Indigenous Peoples, allies and advocates across Canada and beyond embraced the symbolic red dress as a rallying cry for awareness and action. Red Dress Day emerged as an annual event, bringing people together to honour the lives lost and demand justice for the victims and their families.

Currently, statistics show that Indigenous women make up 16% of all femicide victims and 11% of all missing women. These high rates of violence have drawn widespread expressions of concern from national and international human rights authorities, which have repeatedly called for Canada to address the problem. However, nearly four years after the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and two years following the release of the National Action Plan, only two of the 231 Calls for Justice have been implemented, while an implementation timeline has yet to be released.

The Chiefs of Ontario First Nations Women’s Council issued a statement for Red Dress Day last week:

“May 5 is a day to honour and remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. As women leaders, it is our responsibility to amplify their voice, advocate for justice, and work towards ending the violence that plagues our communities,” said First Nations Women’s Council members.

“The implementation of a Red Dress Alert has been slow moving, with New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Leah Gazan leading the push for a national alert system to be put in place. On March 19, 2024, on behalf of the House of Commons, MP Gazan announced the beginning of their formal study for the proposed Red Dress Alert System. One month after the announcement, the 2024 Federal Budget revealed a $1.3 million investment over a three-year period for the implementation of the alert system.

“However, Federal Budget 2024’s commitment to the safety of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people continues to fall short of what is needed. Due to this budgeting shortfall, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree has suggested piloting the Red Dress Alert in specific regions before implementing iton a national scale.

Frustration with the slow-moving progress in introducing such a critical tool for saving lives is felt by our First Nations communities. Early alert programs have been proven to be effective, and the Red Dress Alert will undoubtedly be a crucial step in advancing safety measures. As we work to raise awareness surrounding the crisis, we need to stay committed to supporting these efforts.

“The Women’s Council continues to advocate for priorities identified by our families and communities including a healing fund, community safety planning and a more coordinated approach to ensuring accessibility to needed services for all First Nations communities across Ontario.”

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