OTTAWA – The following is a statement from Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), marking Red Dress Day that is celebrated on May 5 to honour the memory of Indigenous women who have been lost to violence.
“On May 5, Red Dresses will again hang from trees across Canada, moving with the breeze to symbolize their missing wearers – Indigenous women whose violent deaths leave empty garments and shattered families.
Today, we stand in unity with those who have lost loved ones to this tragedy. We grieve for all of those women, girls, and gender-diverse people whose lives have tragically been cut short. And we embrace those who are left behind to mourn.
It has been 11 years since Métis artist Jaime Black created the first REDress public art installation at the University of Winnipeg to honour Canada’s missing and murdered First Nations, Métis and Inuit women. It was inspired by a demonstration she saw in Bogotá, Columbia in which women, garbed in red, gathered in a public square to grieve for their loved ones who had disappeared.
Since then, thousands of others across Canada and in countries around the world have been hanging red dresses in trees on this day to add their voice to the growing cry of horror at these crimes that the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls has determined to be a genocide.
But, 11 years later, the deaths and the disappearances continue in this country and, indeed, across the Americas. Eleven years later, the government has produced no national action plan to stop the violence. Eleven years later, Indigenous women are no safer than they were on that day when Ms. Black hung that first red dress in Manitoba.
The latest statistics say Indigenous women in Canada are still seven times more likely than non-Indigenous women to die at the hands of a killer. This has to stop. Governments must take action. They have a legal and a moral obligation to protect us.
Today, my heart is with those who are aching for a lost mother, grandmother, sister, daughter or auntie. We see your tears and cry along with you. Please know that the one you are missing will never be forgotten.”