'We are still here:' Red Dress Day aims to raise awareness for MMIWG
Several Indigenous women gathered at the legislative building Thursday morning to honour Red Dress Day, an annual event aiming to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
Betty Nippi-Albright, an NDP MLA and residential school survivor, said they are calling on the provincial government to commit to ending violence against Indigenous women who are disproportionately affected.
“Reconciliation cannot occur without that commitment, a commitment to Indigenous led solutions and the adoption of trauma informed approaches, a respect for Indigenous knowledge and a willingness to sit down and work together,” she said.
In recognition of Red Dress Day, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Women’s Commission launched an updated Declaration to Honour First Nations Women and Girls and a request to implement the National Inquiry’s 231 Calls to Justice.
Chief Trisha Sutherland of One Arrow First Nation said they are calling on all levels of government to adopt their declaration and join them in solidarity.
“We stand here today, shoulder to shoulder with our families that have experienced a loss we would never wish on anyone,” she said.
The Saskatchewan government voted on and passed the motion Thursday.
“We continue to engage with Indigenous people so we can better understand how to address this urgent and tragic issue,” said Minister of Justice Gordon Wyant.
“While we remember these individuals (who have gone missing or murdered) today, we need to be remembering them each and every day of the year.”
Vice Chief Aly Bear said Red Dress Day is important not only for awareness but also to take care of the next generations.
“We need our society, institutions, and workplaces to be safe spaces where we no longer live in fear for ourselves and our family’s safety daily,” she said.
“We want to honour those families and we want to honour those women and we don’t want to forget who they are.”
Nippi-Albright said it’s essential to put faces to those who have gone missing.
“It isn’t just a number or statistic, this is a human being,” she said. “This is a person that is an auntie, that is a mother, that is a community member.”
Family members of MMIWG were also at the legislature to share their stories.
Loretta Henderson’s daughter, Krista Kenny, went missing in 2009 when she was 16-years-old. Her remains where found shortly after she went missing. Henderson said although it’s been 13 years, it is still difficult.
“She was kind, she was loving, she helped out so many people, she leaves a lot of family that we still struggle today missing her,” she said. “Every day we talk about her, always mention her because she was my only daughter. I look after her daughter now, her daughter is now 13.”
Gwenda Yuzicappi, mother of the late Amber Redman, said her daughter was only 19-years-old when she went missing and it took two years and 10 months to find her remains. She said only 42 per cent of her daughter’s remains were found.
“I come here as a mother, I come here to speak for my daughter. I am my daughter’s voice and I will continue to be her voice,” she said.
Joyce Keepness, grandmother of Tamra Keepness who went missing 16 years ago when she was five years old, said every day, there is something that reminds her of Tamra.
“It’s something that you never forget. It stays with you,” she said. “This little person, are we ever going to find her? Is she out there?”
Vice Chief Bear said she has been in contact with the government and RCMP on how they can address issuing Amber Alerts for missing Indigenous people, referring to Frank Young of Red Earth Cree Nation.
“We can’t rule out him not being abducted, so that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to continue to stand up and demand justice for our peoples, for our women, for our children and for all missing Indigenous peoples,” she said. “[We’re here to] let you know that we are still here.”
Red Dress Day is commemorated annually on May 5 which grew out of the REDress Project, created by Métis artist Jaime Black in 2010.
The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.