A designer dress designed to bring attention to the movement around missing and murdered Indigenous women is offending some surviving family members.
Deborah Green’s sister, 23-year-old Laney Ewenin, was left to die alone in the freezing cold in 1982. Her murder remains unsolved.
Green said the dress brought her a lot of pain.
“It was very upsetting. I was triggered and retraumatized, it brought back all the memories,” Green said. “I have to work through my tears, I didn’t sleep.”
The dress features countless red dots, intended to signify the number of stolen sisters.
“My sister was more than a dot on a dress. She has a name.”
“To me, it represents blood, it represents disrespect and not putting families first,” Green said.
Green said red dresses aren’t meant to be used as a platform for their pain.
“You’ll see the dresses do not hang on models or mannequins, they are hanging by themselves in trees to represent and honor the women,” Green said.
Indigenous model, Ashley Callingbull, posed in the dress.
Callingbull has been an outspoken advocate for the cause, having relatives of her own who haven’t come home. She said she regrets the pain it caused.
“It upset me that I upset other people. It was open to interpretation. Some saw it as powerful and some people were triggered, but the whole point of talking about MMIW, is that it is triggering,” Callingbull said.
“I meant no ill will. That’s the last thing I wanted to do was offend and hurt anyone.”
Global News reached out to designer Lesley Hampton, but she didn’t return requests for comment.
Hampton’s collection was featured on the runway during Toronto’s fashion week in 2019. At the time, she said part of her purpose was to shed light on an issue often forgotten.
Another Indigenous designer, Dorothy Grant, said she would never incorporate MMIW in fashion.
“I wouldn’t do it. Indigenous fashion should never be used to make a statement and increase ones’ brand awareness,” Grant said. “It’s sad that Native fashion can trivialize this vital cause.”
“My hope is the designer and the model learn from this, to go to the families first and let the families guide the work related to this cause,” Green said.