‘We need to keep talking about it’: Red Dress Day organizer says more education and action is needed

‘We need to keep talking about it’: Red Dress Day organizer says more education and action is needed
Photo courtesy of Indigenous Women’s Sharing Society Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Tla’amin Elder Gladys speaks at Simms Park in Courtenay on May 5, 2024.

By Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

Sunday, May 5 was the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S+).

I first spoke to Patti Alvarado, executive director of Indigenous Women’s Sharing Society for a story on Indigenous Winter Festival back in November.

I reached out to her again to ask about the May 5 event that Indigenous Women’s Sharing Society co-hosted with Miki’sew Métis Association at Simms Park in Courtenay.

Hundreds of people gathered honour the lives of (MMIWG2S+) and to create awareness of the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Opening ceremonies began at 1 p.m., and a red dress walk took place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“The turnout was better than last year,” Alvarado said. “Our seating that we had out was full … and there was also people coming in and out throughout the day during the walk.”

There is still more advocacy work to do though, when you consider a few hundred people out of the total population of the Comox Valley, she said. She hopes to see more media and messaging about Red Dress Day events next time around so all cultures in our community can show support.

Although more community partners joined this year, such as the Foundry, Comox Valley Transition Society and Wachiay Friendship Centre, “it wasn’t a huge event,” she said. “And that’s one of the telltale signs that this is not a priority concern for most people that aren’t affected by it.”

“We were happy with the numbers going up, but we would still like to see more people attend.”

It is a hard topic to talk about, she acknowledged, and sometimes people can be hesitant to openly discuss it.

“We need to keep talking about it. We need to keep having these conversations throughout the year — with each other, with our families and just the community in general, to keep the awareness going.”

Community members shared their stories about family that have gone missing or were murdered, and Alvarado noted that it’s important for their healing journey to have missing family members honoured.

“So many families are impacted by it,” she said. Between 2009 and 2021, 490 Indigenous women and girls were killed across the country, according to Statistics Canada.

The homicide rate is six times higher for Indigenous women and girls than for non-Indigenous women and girls. Indigenous women and girls are also 12 times more likely to go missing and murdered, according to the 2019 national inquiry.

One of the biggest things Alvarado wants to see is the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to be fully adopted by the Canadian Government.

Based on evidence gathered by the national inquiry, commissioners released 231 calls for justice.

In June of 2023, CBC News published a report on what has and has not been done. The report found that only two of the 231 calls for justice were implemented.

“The recommendations need to be followed through on,” Alvarado said.

“[The commission found] there needs to be more oversight of Indigenous women’s rights in health care, in education … in the justice system, and their right to culturally safe spaces, wherever they are, including in the foster care system,” she said. “These recommendations need to be implemented immediately.”

She said it’s not about just showing up at these events  — what is more meaningful is engaging with Indigenous communities to learn about what is needed and taking action by advocating for systemic change.

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