Dresses speak for Indigenous women

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It’s likely you’ve seen a red dress hanging somewhere on Western’s main campus. On trees. From lampposts. Throughout the University Community Centre.

That’s the point – to make the invisible visible, to amplify voices too long ignored.

Western’s Indigenous Services has partnered with Indigenous students to bring the REDress Project to campus.

Brought forward last year by members of the King’s University College Students’ Council, with support from students Mary Capton and Kylie Petahtegoose, the display of bright red dresses in public spaces, initially created by Métis artist Jaime Black in 2011, is intended to draw attention to the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Its aim is to acknowledge and affirm that justice – redress for wrongs committed against Indigenous women – is still needed.

“It’s important to have this initiative on campus because so many students (and people in general) have no idea of the gendered racism and violence that continues to be one of the many issues Indigenous Peoples face today,” Capton said. “There has been no justice and no inquiry on this issue and I refuse to sit idly by without doing my part to bring about awareness and to educate those who know nothing about the issue.”

Forty red dresses are displayed, starting this week, across campus and in the UCC and will continue to hang in place until Dec. 7.

“We wanted to make a statement…to provide an impact on students that they couldn’t ignore,” Capton said of last year’s installation at King’s. “It is so easy to walk around campus and pretend to be on your phone, or to look the other way when fellow peers have booths set up to talk about the topics they’re passionate about. The REDress project is a symbolic and ultimately an emotional response to creating awareness, it’s something one simply cannot ignore.”

The REDress project highlights the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Capton, co-president with Petahtegoose of the newly ratified King’s Indigenous Student’s Association, said the goal this year was to expand to main campus, with support from Western’s Indigenous Students’ Association and Western Indigenous Services.

The display is just one initiative to mark Indigenous Awareness Week at Western (Nov. 24 – 30) and is a visible sign of Western’s commitments in its Indigenous Strategic Plan, said Jennie Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience).

Education and awareness are essential for healing and reconciliation between Canada and the Indigenous nations of Turtle Island, Massey said.

Research by the Native Women’s Association of Canada indicates the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada is disproportionately high. Between 2000 and 2008, approximately 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada were inflicted upon Indigenous women and girls – who comprise just three per cent of Canada’s female population.

The Indigenous Students’ Association at Western has carried the message through to its Saturday’s powwow with its theme of “honouring our women and girls,” said Ashley Kewayosh Samuel, Program Coordinator in Indigenous Services.

In keeping with the theme, Robyn Bourgeois (Laughing Otter Caring Woman), professor in the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies at Brock University, will also give a public lecture Tuesday on her work about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Massey said Student Experience knows the REDress project may have a deep emotional impact on some members of the campus community and has committed to providing adequate and appropriate resources and supports to those who may need them. Student Experience will ensure:

  • Elders are available through Indigenous Services, Western Student Services Rm. 2100;
  • CMHA Drop-in Counselling from Nov. 19 to Dec. 13, Monday to Thursday from 5 – 9 p.m.; and
  • Psychological Services will be available Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

There will be a number of events during Indigenous Awareness week. Please refer to the events calendar for more information. A sampling of events open to all:

  • Sat. Nov. 24 – 13thannual Indigenous Students’ Association Powwow, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Mustang Lounge
  • Mon., Nov. 26 – Nov. 30 – Library displays highlighting indigenous books, authors and musicians;
  • Wed., Nov. 28 – Indigenous cuisine at Delaware Hall, lunch
  • Thurs., Nov. 29 – ‘Not Vanishing’: keynote speaker , Brock professor Robyn Bourgeois (Laughing Otter Caring Woman), on her work about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, 12:30, McKellar Room, UCC.

The theme of this year’s powwow, to take place Saturday, Nov. 24 and led by Western’s Indigenous Students’ Association, is ‘honouring our women and girls.’

Western’s Indigenous Strategic Plan recognizes a collective “role and responsibility in responding to calls to action from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the importance of creating a culturally safe, respectful, and empowering environment for Indigenous peoples across all levels of the institution.” By supporting Indigenous initiatives, the campus community aims to take on the responsibility identified in the calls to action.