By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – May 5 was Red Dress Day – A day in Canada to raise awareness for the disproportionate number of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ (MMIW) people in the country.
Red Dress Day was started 11 years ago by Jaime Black, a Metis artist, and it began as an installation art project based on an aesthetic response to this critical national issue. Black wanted to raise awareness for the nearly 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls in Canada (It’s important to note that this number is believed to be much higher).
Now the day is observed on a national scale with marches and vigils held across the country.
A march and rally took place in Downtown Edmonton Wednesday May 5, with hundreds of people gathering to support Red Dress Day. Judith Gale, organizer of the event, said, “It’s awesome to have the people here in unity and with one voice.”
“That’s to honour our missing and murdered, exploited Indigenous people of Canada.”
It was an emotional time to say the least.
A stage was set up at the rally for people to speak about their friends and family members who were either missing or murdered. Many people cried, many hugs were given, and many people spoke.
“I love all the families that have been sharing already and the beautiful names they have been bringing forth. Those are the names that we need to speak today because we’re here for them, to honour them, and to remember them,” said Gale.
The rally also acted as a charity event as the organizers were giving away food hampers and clothing. Wati Rahmat, an MMIW ally and member of the Muslim Initiative called Sister’s Dialogue, said, “We collected food items as well as toiletries and baby food.”
The donations were coordinated by Edmonton Foodbank, the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, Sister’s Dialogue, the Bearclan and Water Warriors.
Food and clothing items were donated to the event from Edmontonians and were free for anyone to take. “It’s open to anyone. We don’t ask what their background is. Whoever wants to come and take a hamper can grab one,” said Wati.
At the peak of the event, there were approximately 400 people.
Gale said of the amount of people, “I had ordered 300 masks and unfortunately they were all gone right away and there’s still people who didn’t get some.”
While Alberta announced new COVID-19 restrictions the day before, the event practiced social distancing and followed all protocols.
“This is our third walk,” said Gale. “Last year unfortunately, I let COVID get in the way and we didn’t do the walk. And I really regretted it all year long. So this year I was very adamant that we do this because we need to come together as Indigenous people.”
Gale continued, “We need to hug one another and say our loved ones names to honour and remember them. I’m very happy that so many families are sharing.”
“It’s a wonderful day to be Indigenous.”
Finally, when asked about why she does this work, Gale pointed down to her bright, red ribbon skirt. On it was an art piece depicting two Native women.
“This is my sister who lay in the morgue for three months with a tag on her toe that read, ‘Jane Doe.’ 40 years ago nobody was looking for missing Indigenous women. That was 40 years ago. And still to this day it seems to be the same thing. There’s been 40 years of this in my family alone.”
“Enough is enough, Canada. You have to stop the ongoing genocide. You have to stop the missing and murdered exploitation of our Indigenous people.”