Around 200 Red Deerians gathered in Red Deer’s City Hall Park to commemorate and raise awareness for the lives of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Children, and Two Spirit People (MMIWG2S+).
There was song, prayer, performances, poems, and stories shared. Red dresses were hung in the trees at City Hall Park. Many shared stories of family members who had been lost or murdered, while others spoke about racism in Red Deer.
Gender-based Violence Prevention Project Facilitator, Bee Henry spoke at the event claiming the day was a double-edged sword.
“It is a day where we are encouraged to find healing through sharing and opening the door for conversation, but it is also very challenging for people to hold that space for this kind of agony. It's a very dualistic kind of day. When we're talking about the duality of Red Dress Day, it is very much a bittersweet moment of creating that visibility which is very necessary, and also being confronted with the visibility of the fact that there is so much loss and so much absence in our communities,” said Henry.
City of Red Deer Mayor, Ken Johnston spoke about a recent tragic event at the gathering. In April, two young girls were found dead in a hotel in Sylvan Lake who were celebrating a Birthday. 13-year-old Olivia Johnson was an active member of the Indigenous community and danced with the Red Deer Indigenous Dance Troupe.
“Just a few weeks ago, a 12-year-old, 13-year-old lost to us and what are we to make of this as a City, as a province, as a people with flesh, and blood, and hearts, and minds, and spirits? I think of that event and how it is meant to strengthen us somehow, and how it is meant to bring clarity of purpose somehow, and I pledge as your Mayor that event will do that for me,” said Ken Johnston.
Bee Henry encourages people speak up and be visible on Red Dress Day to spread awareness for MMIWG2S+.
“We are creating visibility by wearing red and you'll see people with red handprints on their faces today. So promoting that visibility, we are all aware of what is going on and the more of us are aware of the issue, the more of us can take steps to protect those who are at higher risk. That's the kind of action that your everyday system can take. You can also petition your parents, your mayors, your municipalities, to pull the calls to action into their policy so that they can take some action as well,” said Henry.
Recently, the House of Commons has backed a motion to declare the MMIWG2S+ a Canada-wide emergency. After decades of deaths and missing family members, Henry sees it as a hopeful sign.
“By declaring MMIW as a national emergency, I think will also help to pull those individuals who maybe aren't as aware of the issue and aren't aware of what action they can take. It will help encourage them to take further action and to look into it a little bit more seriously, because now the federal government is recognizing it a little bit more appropriately,” added Henry.