On May 5, the University of Waterloo observed Red Dress Day to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and those who identify as Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S). Elder Myeengun Henry, Indigenous Knowledge Keeper, hosted the ceremony on the BMH Green.
The term MMIWG2S also describes the ongoing crisis regarding the disproportionate rates of violence committed against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit. According to Statistics Canada, around 56 per cent of Indigenous women have experienced physical assault, with 46 per cent of Indigenous women having experienced sexual assault. In comparison, non-Indigenous women report experiencing physical and sexual assault at rates of 34 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively. A 2016 Public Safety report also found that Indigenous women, who make up four per cent of the Canadian population, made up around 50 per cent of human trafficking victims.
Henry described the importance of implementing such ceremonies, stating they would ensure that “the students who graduate from this university will now know how important it is to know about Indigenous People.”
In September 2022, UW held an official ceremony where president Vivek Goel formally committed to reconciliation. During the ceremony, Goel stated that though reconciliation would take time, it begins with “building a relationship like we are doing today, and committing as we are doing today.”
Red Dress Day, first commemorated in 2010, began as an art installation by Manitoban artist Jamie Black, who identifies as Métis. Black hung red dresses from windows and trees, choosing the colour red after being informed by an Indigenous friend that it was the only colour spirits could see. The colour can also be seen in United College’s annual art installation on the bridge between United College and Environment 3, wherein red pieces of fabric, each meant to represent a lost person, are tied onto the bridge, while the names of over a thousand MMIWG2S are read aloud.
The 2021-22 Federal Pathway Annual Progress Report Summary lists various categories of progress, including progress on security efforts, justice initiatives, and cultural supports. The data shows that even during the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, which launched in September 2016, the rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls remained the same.
Ceremonies to observe Red Dress Day also took place in Kitchener’s Victoria Park and at Cambridge City Hall. Speakers such as Bangishimo, a local Indigenous activist, were present at Victoria Park and called for justice for MMMIWG2S. Speakers at the Cambridge ceremony reminded listeners that the issue is not just a national emergency, but a local one as well given the region’s proximity to Highway 401, a route often used for human trafficking. This leads to family members assuming their loved ones are dead, when they may actually be in another part of the country.
For additional resources on MMIWG2S and prevention, visit the following: