It’s a colour that transcends the physical world and calls to the ancestors in the spiritual world.
Countless red dresses represent memories of the Missing, Murdered and Exploited Indigenous People (MMEIP).
On Feb. 4, 1982, Eleanor Laney Ewenin was found on the outskirts of Calgary, Alta., after she had been missing for several days.
Her murder was never solved.
Her sister Deborah Green-Gopher vowed to always remember her. That’s the reason she organizes Calgary’s Red Dress Day events.
“It’s important to continue to increase awareness and education so genocide can stop against Indigenous people.
“Red is the colour the spirits see so when we wear red we are calling on spirits to join us in a good way so we can honour and remember them,” Green-Gopher said.
The threat of Indigenous women becoming victims of violence is heartbreakingly high.
Elena Zaldana is a survivor of domestic violence and came to the event to give a voice to all the women who didn’t come home.
“I know not too many women make it out alive.”
“If I didn’t make change, I could have been a victim. I could have been a name on a poster and I don’t want that for my children. My children deserve a mother who is a survivor,” Zaldana said.
Despite the crimson garments and red ribbons, organizers said there is a long way to go towards reconciliation.
Some of the red dresses were removed from Calgary roadways by Carmacks crews and carelessly tossed in the trash. Carmacks is a highway maintenance contractor, and crews patrol provincial roadways like Deerfoot Trail.
Yvonne Henderson with the Bear Clan Patrol worked through the night with other volunteers to hang the red dresses along roads and at city landfills. Their efforts were interrupted by road crews.
“They said it’s illegal and that we were trespassing. They called it trash.”
“It’s careless. They don’t see the memory attached and the humanity behind the spirits and the people and the place with every dress and every prayer ribbon,” Henderson said.
“It makes me want to hang more red dresses and do it every day of the year.”
The area manager for Carmacks, Phillip Mendive, came to the ceremony to offer an apology and promised to do better.
“We are committed to educating ourselves and our co-workers,” Mendive said. “Any interaction like that is not condoned, and once an investigation is complete, we will address that and handle it appropriately.
“We do take this seriously.”
But those gathering didn’t want that to overshadow the true purpose of this gathering.
This year’s ceremony also marks the unveiling of a temporary memorial for Joey English, a young woman whose partial remains were discovered not far from the greenspace along Memorial Drive.
The family spokesperson, Autumn Eaglespeaker, said it will become a place for comfort and healing.
“We want families to know when you are seeking justice, we hear you. When you’re feeling sad, we are sad,” Eaglespeaker said.
“When you’re loving these women, we love them too. When I say you’re not alone, we as a community, we will also stand with you.”