Hosted by Atlohsa Family Healing Centre, the event was inspired by the REDress Project which focuses on violence towards Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2 people through an art series created by Metis artist Jamie Black.
“The project has been installed in public spaces throughout Canada and the United States as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us,” reads the front page of the REDress Project website.
May 5, also referred to as Red Dress Day, serves as a call to action and a day of remembrance for the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited people.
The event in Ivey Park saw a variety of speakers, sharing circles, a sacred fire and activities such as bead and corn doll making.
“We tried to get the Indigenous communities within London to come together and plan this,” said Reta Van Every, an Indigenous cultural lead at CMHA Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services.
Along with Atlohsa, other sponsors of the event included Oneida Nation of the Thames Healing Lodge, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s justice department, Southwestern Ontario Health Access Centre (SOHAC), My Sisters Place, N’Amerind Friendship Centre of London, Fanshawe College and Western University’s Indigenous student centres.
“Today is one of those days where we hang those red dresses and we honour them because each one represents someone,” added Elyssa Rose, Indigenous advocate and human trafficking coordinator for Atlohsa.
“There’s still women, men, and two-spirit individuals going missing today. So, part of carrying this forward is to raise awareness.”
Grand Chief Joel Abram of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians said that the impact left on Indigenous communities as a result of violence against Indigenous women “never fades.”
“Mothers and girls are the root of our society, and it has a huge impact on families when those women aren’t in their lives anymore,” said Abram.
Amanda Kennedy, founder and CEO of Yotuni, a charitable organization working to empower Indigenous people and communities, further explained the rise of this growing issue.
“It’s not just on May 5 that Indigenous women go missing,” says Kennedy. “We need to continue talking about this truth, even if it hurts, and even if it makes us uncomfortable.”
According to Jennifer Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Womens Centre, Indigenous women make up approximately four per cent of the Canadian population but about 50 per cent of all trafficking victims in Canada.
“I think that we really need to acknowledge all forms of violence that have been and continue to be inflicted on Indigenous people,” said Dunn.
“Today is an opportunity to focus on raising awareness around the injustices that Indigenous people face and really work towards coming up with resolutions on how to make this stop.”
Reacting to the turnout at the event in Ivey Park, Rose expresses her gratitude to those who came out to share their support and solidarity.
“It’s incredible to know that people are coming forward and wanting to understand our history and understand what these red dresses mean,” said Rose. “I think that’s one of the biggest things is being able to have these conversations with all the beautiful people that are here.”
Van Every added that at the beginning of the event, two eagles were spotted over the park, a symbol in many Indigenous cultures for respect, honour, strength, courage and wisdom as it flies the closest to the Creator.
“There are ways where we can all help each other and if London as a community could do anything, just continue to see us because we are here to stay,” said Rose.