More than a hundred people showed up to the annual Red Dress Day ceremonies on Friday, remembering missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit individuals.
At times somber, and other times less so, the gathering was a chance for family, friends, and anyone else affected by the loss of loved ones to commune and to heal.
“This is a place of love, healing and a gathering for the families and the survivors of missing murdered, exploited indigenous people,” said Deborah Green, an organizer for the event, and a MMIWG2S family member and advocate.
She said that May 5 is the day they honour the spirits of MMIWG2S individuals through the hanging of red dresses and ribbons.
“Red is the colour that the spirits see, so we call on them to come join us as we honour them with drum song prayer doubts, and ask them to go on their journeys on the other side until we see them again,” Green said.
The number of Indigenous people who have been affected by having family or friends go missing or murdered, said Green, is hard to overstate.
“I don’t think you’ll meet one indigenous person that hasn’t,” she said.
“My sister is on the list. She was murdered by a starlight tour here in Calgary, and so my sisters and I have advocated for 35 years for her murder.”
Green said that the families of MMIWG2S have a shared kinship in their losses.
“Wo we come together in the power of the medicines, which heal us, the songs, the prayers, the dancing—we’re one big family here,” she said.
Trust, relationships, invitation important to survivors
As part of the ceremonies, police, along with other law enforcement and first responder personnel, were asked not to wear uniforms. Members of the Calgary Police’s former Indigenous liaison unit attended as civilians.
Members of Calgary city council and the City of Calgary also attended the event, including Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Councillors Dan McLean and Courtney Walcott, City Manager David Duckworth, and Calgary Fire Department Fire Chief Steve Dongworth.
“We asked the mayor on the first year to come and join us, and she has been here every year, and she attends a lot of events,” said Green.
“She has gone into ceremony. So it’s about that trust and relationship, and so a few are trusted councillors as well.”
Mayor Gondek said that she was greatly appreciative to have been invited, and that council has a responsibility to enact calls from the National Inqury.
“The fact that Deb has invited me and my council colleagues means that we are making the connections we need to move towards, hearing the stories, understanding the very heavy truth, and then finding the actions that we need to take as a local government,” the mayor said.
“When we are setting budgets, and we are setting service levels, we have to make sure that we are doing that in a way that doesn’t marginalize Indigenous peoples, particularly women and girls and two-spirited people.”
She said that she challenged any leader coming to events like these to listen to survivors and their families, to come away from it without feeling a sense responsibility to do more.
“I think it’s really important to be raising awareness that there is still a crisis in this country and even in our city, where Indigenous women girls, two-spirit people are going missing and they are being murdered and exploited,” the mayor said.
“If we are not talking about these things, and we are not ensuring that everyone understands how dire this is and we are not effectively working with Indigenous communities.”
Green said that gatherings like the one held continue to affect change for Indigenous communities, but also work to make Indigenous individuals safer.
“We’ll continue to for the people for the feeling for the you know, the love and the kindness that we still need to bring for our generations to come,” she said.
“I would just add that I highly recommend all Canadians read the 231 calls for justice and the 92 calls to action from the TRC report. Then we will see everybody here.”
Not everyone invited to take part
Green said that not everyone who attended, or who had planned to attend, had been invited. That included United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith.
“We did have a request for another certain conservative lady that’s running for office right now, and we denied that, as she has no relationship with us,” Green said.
Smith posted photos and a statement to Twitter on Friday evening that she had attended the event, hanging ribbons on trees with members of the Indigenous community.
“I joined Samantha and Dianna to hang red ribbons and dresses along Memorial Drive to acknowledge the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit people.”
“Thank you for inviting me to join you.”
Smith was observed to have taken photos with some members of the Indigenous community away from the main ceremony, but did not attend the event directly along with other public figures.
Questions posed to the United Conservative Party by LiveWire Calgary about who invited Smith, whether she directly received the message that organizers did not want her to attend, and why Smith did not attend the ceremonies went unanswered as of publication time.