ST. PAUL - A tipi, red clothing, and handmade signs with powerful messages - those were just a few of the stark symbols used to create awareness around the countless lives that have been lost over the years, along with the hopes and dreams connected to those lives.
With precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of small groups gathered at the park on main street in St. Paul located along 50th Avenue and 49th Street on Wednesday, in honour of Red Dress Day. The day has been created to honour Missing, Murdered, Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
A mikiwāhp (tipi) has been set up at the park, and on Wednesday, and following a few speeches, those in attendance were invited to step up to the tipi, in small groups, to tie red ribbons onto the tipi. The tipi will remain at the park until May 20, and red ribbons can still be picked up at the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre until May 19, for those who would like to go on their own to tie a red ribbon.
The mikiwāhp (tipi) is the spirit and body of woman, because she represents the foundation of family and community and represents the value of women’s teachings, according to information from the Mannawanis NFC.
The Mannawanis NFC, in partnership with Tribal Chiefs Ventures Inc., and community Elder Linda Boudreau Semaganis hosted the event. The 11 a.m. ceremony was live streamed to allow for others to take part, without drawing a large crowd. Those who were in attendance wore masks and kept distanced from one another.
"The goal of this campaign is to acknowledge and honour the women and girls who have lost their lives to unnecessary violence," according to information from the Mannawanis NFC.
Everyone in the community is welcome to pick up ribbons and tie them to the mikiwāhp (tipi), in honour of the loved ones who are missing or have been murdered. Once fully caped with red ribbons the mikiwāhp (tipi) will be a visual representation of a woman or girl in a red skirt.
"This event is to honour our missing and murdered sisters, to create awareness of the crisis and to do education and prevention," says Boudreau Semaganis. "It is to let the grieving families know their loved ones are not forgotten and the families are supported by our communities. When women gather, healing begins."
Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson released a statement on Red Dress Day.
“On this day, and every day, we stand with our hearts open and in solidarity with the families, survivors and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," said Wilson,
“Hanging red dresses or wearing red shows our support to families and survivors who are in need of finding answers, of being treated with compassion and dignity, and of knowing there is hope."
In his message, Wilson acknowledged that a sharp rise in violence toward Indigenous women has been noted during the pandemic.
“In May 2020, 17 per cent reported experiencing domestic violence over a three-month period compared to 10 per cent over a period of five years starting in 2014," he said, adding, “It is our collective responsibility to turn the tide on this serious and long-standing reality."
“Alberta needs to be a safer place for everyone, including Indigenous women," said the minister.