MMIWG2S crisis captures red carpet audience during Cannes Film Festival

Two women stand holding a poster with images of MMIWG
Palexelsiya Lorelei Williams and Krista Cutarm hold a poster with images of MMIWG at Cannes Indigenous Arts and Fashion Festival. Palexelsiya Lorelei Williams / Provided

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After Vancouver-based dance group Butterflies in Spirit performed and unveiled a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2s) installation on Red Dress Day at Stadium Station, Palexelsiya Lorelei Williams was asked to bring that installation to Cannes, France.

This year was the inaugural Cannes Indigenous Arts & Fashion Festival, which took place during the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Indigenous models and designers from across North America brought their work to the seaside city, rubbing elbows with celebrities — like director Martin Scorsese, who attended one of the shows.

Williams brought with her an MMIWG2s cape, dress and smaller versions of the installation put up at Stadium Station. She also gave a speech.

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Palexelsiya Lorelei Williams wears an MMIWG2s cape made by Morgan Asoyuf. AnnMarie Åse / AMA Imagery

“To be able to raise awareness for (MMIWG2s) over there was a huge honour,” said Williams. “The main reason I went was to raise awareness; modelling was just a part of it.”

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Williams’ last-minute addition to the festival meant she was only able to model for a few designers, but she was able to hang the posters along the runway so they were the first thing many people saw.

“I got to model the MMIWG2s cape in the show, I could not believe it was happening,” said Williams. “Not only was I able to bring awareness on an international stage but to movie stars.”

She said actor Leonardo DiCaprio was even supposed to attend one of the shows but got stuck in traffic.

Click to play video: 'Butterflies in Spirit: Honouring lost women through song and dance'
Butterflies in Spirit: Honouring lost women through song and dance

During the Sky-Eagle Collection show, violinist Geneviève Gros-Louis Salamone played while Dante Biss-Grayson — the designer behind the brand — spoke about MMIWG2s and justice for Indigenous people.

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“His words were so powerful,” said Williams. “It was so moving, I had to sit down and lean my head back…. I really wanted to break down.”

The festival included an intensive two-day model training, video shoots and photo shoots, five Indigenous designers and dozens of models.

Williams said the work was well received, she was interviewed by international media, asked to take photos by random people in the street and explain the message she was sharing.

“It was such an amazing experience,” she said.

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