Tuesday, March 8, 2016

REDressing wrong

If you look up the word 'redress' in a dictionary, you'll find something like this:

re-dress  v. (1) to set right : REMEDY. (2) to make up for : COMPENSATE. to remove the cause of (a grievance or complaint). (3) to exact reparation for : AVENGE. (4) to requite (a person) for a wrong or loss. (5) to heal.

A recent art installation in our city made me examine the meaning of the word more closely. On Friday, my eldest daughter and I went to see Ni Wapataenen on Alberta Avenue here in Edmonton. Organized by Lori Calkins, a Metis woman and Anglican Priest, and others who offered input and assistance, it was a simple but powerful effort to redress the many wrongs done to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of our country. A single, bare greenstick tipi stood in the middle of a park space, surrounded by 40 stripped trees on stands, and on each tree hung a single, empty red dress. Some of the trees bore poetry, others, bits of wisdom from Indigenous elders, mentioning the seven sacred directions, spirit animals, and colours. The display was called Ni Wapataenen, which means We See.

And see we did. It's hard to miss 40 red dresses. And understanding that every dress represented approximately 30 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and their families brought a sob to my throat. Only my daughter and I stood among the trees and dresses reading poems commemorating some of the beautiful women that the dresses stood for, but it was as though I was surrounded by a host of missing sisters. One of the dresses reminded me of a dress my own sister once wore, and the loss of my Indigenous sisters became real in a way that it never had been before.

Nine months ago, I was fortunate enough to reconnect with my first best friend, a beautiful Indigenous woman who has made her way through life in spite of incredible challenges from a society that suffers from racism against its First Nations Peoples. There may be those who take issues with my belief that society suffers from racism -- but it's the simple truth. Wherever racism exists, its victims suffer deeply, and perpetrators also forfeit the possibility of real and loving relationship, which is a different kind of suffering. Pain abounds. But redressing racism's wrongs and rebuilding relationships is possible, and there is nothing to stop us except our ourselves.

If this is the first time you've heard about red dresses being used this way, check out Jamie Black's website, The REDress Project. And if you have a chance or if you are a photographer, please click here for a wonderful story about Mufty Matthewson, who developed the REDress Photography Project to honour our the 1,181 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, including my first best friend's cousin.

On this International Women's Day, when we celebrate women's social, economic, cultural and political achievement, we must also be aware of the progress we can still make, especially when it comes to redressing the wrongs still occurring. Thanks to people like Lori Calkins, Jamie Black and Mufty Matthewson, awareness continues to grow and spread. We dream of a better day.


  1. This makes me feel sadness and shame. How can we ignore this for so long? Thank you for your post. Incidentally,I am only getting this article on the download. Is there a problem?

    1. I'm not sure what that means, "only getting this article on the download." And yes, North Americans have ignored this issue for far too long. But we are becoming more aware through people bringing attention to it in these different ways...


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