Red Dress Day – National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

May 1, 2023

Observed every May 5, Red Dress Day is meant to raise awareness about the ongoing violence against and disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals, as well as brings attention to the systemic issues that contribute to this ongoing crisis.

Métis artist Jaime Black’s The REDress project helped make the red dress a symbol of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Empty red dresses were displayed in public places to bring attention to the violence Indigenous women experience.

Sisters in Spirit Day, which occurs annually on Oct. 4, as well as the Women’s Memorial March annually on Feb. 14, are also days to raise awareness about the missing and murdered. A fair question may be, why are there so many days for this? A history that includes systemic violence and trauma, police brutality, emotional and sexual abuse experienced in residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, forced displacement and assimilation policies have contributed to the creation of this environment. Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett issued a statement on Red Dress Day in 2021 that said, “Canada’s history, along with sexism, ableism, racism, homophobia, transphobia as well as the actions and inactions of past governments created systemic discrimination and inequities, which must be addressed in order for Indigenous women, girls, [and] 2SLGBTQQIA+ people to be safe wherever they live.”

Forty-two per cent of Indigenous women reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse during childhood. Of these women, four in five (80 per cent) reported experiencing intimate partner violence during their lifetime. There is also a lack of long-term shelters for women who are trying to escape abusive relationships. Only eight per cent of shelters were able to accommodate women long-term.

The cycle continues like a rotating door as resources continue to be inadequate to address the issues at hand. Systemic racism also has a role to play. For instance, there are more Indigenous children in care now than there were at the height of the residential school system. In April 2022, Indigenous women accounted for 50 per cent of the federal prison population. Of that population, 65 per cent have been classified as maximum-security offenders. Maximum-security offenders often do not get to participate in programming inside prisons and often serve their sentence in full, leading to a higher rate of repeat offenses.

Red Dress Day is an opportunity for Canadians to show solidarity with Indigenous communities and to work towards ending the violence and injustice that Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals experience. Check out the Government of Alberta’s Red Dress Day page for local events.

By: Jessica Buffalo, Indigenous Initiatives Counsel