Drivers will soon start seeing dozens of red dresses and shirts along highways 1 and 19 between Victoria and Port Hardy.
They’re being hung in an effort to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual) in Canada.
Stephanie Elickus, who is leading the Red Dress Project in Campbell River, spent part of Saturday putting up two of what she hopes will be 100 red dresses and shirts along the highway.
For Elickus, the project is personal, having suffered a deep, life-altering loss when a family member was taken violently almost 20 years ago.
“Well in 1992 my sister-in-law, my best friend was murdered along with another woman near the base of Mount Washington,” said Elickus.
The Red Dress Project officially began in 2009 but red has been a symbol of Indigenous loss for much longer.
“For lots of tribes, the colour red is the only colour that spirits can see so when we hang red shirts or dresses that’s to help bring them home,” added Elickus.
A 2019 national inquiry concluded that there was no “reliable estimate of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, in Canada” but some estimates put the figure at over 1000.
One of the women is Marnie Frey from Campbell River, who went missing in 1997 and was later discovered to have been one of serial killer Willie Picton’s victims.
“No matter how old I get and what goes on in my life I’m never going to forget what went on with Marnie and all the other missing and murdered women and I just have to be an advocate, I can’t just let it go, I have a purpose,” said Frey.
Elickus is asking people up and down Vancouver Island to hang a red dress or shirt in support of the Red Dress Project.
She says the Canadian government needs to put a higher priority on the hundreds of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. She also says men and boys are also being added to the awareness campaign this year.
“The government needs to step up and continue to look for these missing women, girls, men, and boys,” said Elickus.