REDress Project Installation a Symbol of Inequity and Hope
Jamie Black, a Métis multidisciplinary artist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, had an idea. Create an aesthetic response to the issue of missing or murdered Indigenous women across Canada, by displaying dresses. Red dresses. The colour of blood, anger, spirituality, and love. Five-hundred. One for each woman lost. Hung on display outdoors in public and eye-catching spaces that could not be ignored by people walking by them, and where they could serve as a reminder of the racialization and sexualized violence against Indigenous women.
With this vision and a partnership with the University of Winnipeg the The REDress Project was launched, and over the past 10 years since has travelled across North America and been featured in the media, most recently in the April issue of Vogue magazine. On May 5th, St. Jerome’s University (SJU) honours the message of the project with its own version of a red dress tribute, led by a faculty member with whom the meaning has a personal connection.
Andrew Deman, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of English at SJU and the University of Waterloo. Together with his family and supported by SJU leadership and the University of Waterloo’s Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion office’s Indigenous Initiatives, he brought the red dress message to the SJU campus by installing an exhibit in its Alumni Court. Using five dresses donated by The New Hamburg Thrift Centre, Deman and his family were on campus early on the morning of May 5th to honour lost Indigenous women and Black’s vision.
“My wife and two young daughters are Metis, members of the lost generation,” noted Deman. “In recent years we've found that connecting our children to their cultural heritage is a difficult parenting exercise, given the tradition of violence, inequity and - quite frankly - atrocity that is a part of Canada's historic treatment of Indigenous women. The temptation is to have them know nothing about these things - ignorant bliss - but I think it's only through awareness that we can actually move forward.”
Deman added that as a Catholic institution St. Jerome’s has been forthright in its commitment to the gospel values of love, truth, and justice and that current leadership has doubled-down on those commitments in what he described as “a number of heartening ways.”
“There's a fundamental inequity in Canadian society with regard to the treatment of Indigenous women, one that ignores truth and evades justice,” Deman added, “but acknowledging and condemning these inequities is the first step, in my eyes, toward a brighter future. If nothing else, there is love behind this initiative.”
SJU’s President and Vice Chancellor, Peter Meehan welcomed the opportunity to have the Deman family lead this installation on the university’s campus. Pointing to the importance of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples as an important aspect of St. Jerome’s Catholic mission and identity, he noted that this installation serves as a reminder of the realities of inequity, but also offers us a powerful message of hope.
“The REDress Project brings people together. If we can help to draw attention to the staggering number of Indigenous women who are no longer with us, while at the same time offering hope that their lives are not forgotten, we are supporting the need for conversations about change and the importance of justice,” Meehan noted.
For Andrew Deman the meaning of “hope” has even greater significance.
“Perhaps one day my daughters' daughters will never have to see red dresses hanging from trees, because all the women of their generation made it home safely.”
SJU’s Alumni Court is home to an outdoor display honouring Red Dress Day on May 5th.
The display is in support of Jaime Black’s The REDress Project launched in 2011,
which has brought public attention to the issue of missing or murdered Indigenous women
across Canada and internationally.
Learn more about Jaime Black and The REDress Project here.
Learn more on social media using the following links: #RedDressProject #MMIW, #MMIWG, #MMIWG2S, and #NoMoreStolenSisters
Indigenous women are victims of murder more than 10 times the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In Canada, the government’s National Inquiry found similar horrifying statistics, including that Indigenous women are seven times more likely to be murdered by serial killers than non-Indigenous women.
“The National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and Girls” is an event designated by a congressional resolution in the United States. It was first drafted in 2013 in memory of the life of Hanna Harris, a member of Northern Cheyenne, who was murdered. It was introduced formally in July 2016 and is commemorated internationally in different ways to raise awareness about the global and ongoing femicide. In Canada, May 5th is becoming known as "Red Dress Day."