The REDress Project by Jaime Black is a public art installation that highlights the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women from First Nations, Inuit, Métis (FNIM), and Native American communities. Black, a Métis artist, hangs red dresses in a range of environments. The dresses are empty, so that they evoke the missing women who should be wearing them. Black has said, ‘People notice there is a presence in the absence’.
Indigenous women make up 16% of all female homicide victims, and 11% of missing women, even though Indigenous people make up 4.3% of the population of Canada. To address this, a National Inquiry was launched in 2016. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was published in 2019 and revealed that ‘persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people’.
Family members and survivors of violence gave testimony that described a context of multigenerational and intergenerational trauma and marginalization in the form of poverty, insecure housing or homelessness and barriers to education, employment, health care and cultural support. Experts and Knowledge Keepers pointed to specific colonial and patriarchal policies that continue to displace women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminish their status in society, leaving them vulnerable to violence.
The National Inquiry’s report calls for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country. Since Jaime Black first conceived of the REDress Project in 2010, over 400 red dresses have been donated by women across Canada, some by the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The installation has been exhibited internationally and in over 30 locations across Canada, raising awareness and starting a grassroots movement that has evolved into Red Dress Day.
Each year on May 5, as the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls grows, more and more people of all backgrounds hang empty red dresses outside their homes and around their towns to memorialize those who have been taken from their own homes and families, and as a reminder that violence against Indigenous women and girls is a national crisis that requires urgent, informed and collaborative action.
Those taking part in Red Dress Day are encouraged to share photos on social media using the hashtags #mmiwg #reddressproject and #reddressday.
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We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.