To some, the red dress is a symbol of grief. To others, it’s a call to justice.
Mount Royal University acknowledged Red Dress Day on Friday and the symbolism of it, representing the thousands of Indigenous women and girls, as well as the two-spirit peoples who have been missing and murdered.
The university has displayed a campus-wide art exhibit, with red dresses hanging from multiple trees around the campus.
John Fischer, the director of the Iniskim Centre at MRU, spoke more on the origins of Red Dress Day, and how it affects Indigenous communities around Canada.
“Red Dress Day was initiated by Jamie Black, who did an installation, that’s called redress. So it was red dresses that were hung in trees, and they represent lives lost and the pain of missing and murdered indigenous women,” he said.
“The color red of the dresses represents the blood and the life that the women have lost, but also the life that they gave.”
To him, it also represents a call to action and the justice that must come with it.
“For me, it symbolizes a call to justice and a recognition that there are families who are missing wives, sisters and Aunties and that the police and other justice agencies need to step up in their work,” he said.
He also spoke about the finding of last year’s mass grave in British Columbia and the feelings that came up when it was discovered.
“It’s an emotional trigger. It’s a retraumatization of what we have experienced as Indigenous people. I think that’s what needs to be said right up front. Every time it happens, it brings up not only sadness but anger, too. So I think that is a motivating factor for some, that the work needs to continue,” he said.
“For the general community, I think it’s a reminder that there is so much to do.”
Fischer said that acknowledgment and awareness aren’t enough. He said that in order to reconcile and learn, we must all work together in this matter, whether it be citizens or government agencies.
“I think, I would like to put it as we’re all doing this together and with different focuses, of course, depending on how we’re working in our communities and institutions,” he said.
“There are all sorts of learning resources for this. At Mount Royal, we have a website on indigenization and decolonization. So the dresses have a QR code on them, so that people can be directed to that website.”
Fischer then leaves with a final message to those looking to reconcile:
“One of the most important things about this day is to recognize that this impacts many families in many different ways; some who are waiting for people to come home, some who are working through the justice system for retribution for lives lost and some who are working through memories and trying to move forward from there,” he said.
“So this is not a chapter in the book that’s closing. This is our current reality.”
Fischer says he will continue to do more work at the Iniskim Centre, and hopes that the push for Reconciliation and Indigenization will continue.