Written by Sxwpilemaat Siyam, aka Chief Leanne Joe (she/her)
The United Nations defines violence against women as gender-based violence that can result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering. Violence can happen in all cultures, religions and communities, but due to Canada’s history of colonization, Indigenous women face higher rates of violence than non-Indigenous women. Once held in high regard as leaders and givers of life, Indigenous women are now devalued because of their race and gender. This has led to disproportionately higher rates of experienced violence, spousal assault, family violence and sexual assault towards Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.
Red Dress Day
May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women & Girls. It is widely recognized as Red Dress Day, a day to recognize, honour and raise awareness about this on-going national tragedy.
Red dress day started as REDress project established by Indigenous artist Jamie Black to focus on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada and United States in 2010.1 The dresses are empty, so that they evoke the missing women who should be wearing them. The colour red was chosen after Jamie Black had a conversation with an Indigenous friend who shared with her “(Red) is really a calling back of the spirits of these women and allowing them a chance to be among us and have their voices heard through their family members and community.”2 Red also symbolizes “our lifeblood and that connection between all of us,”3 and both vitality and violence.
Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) refers to the human right crisis of the high and disproportionate rates of violence and number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. According to the Assembly of First Nations from 2019, Indigenous women are three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be victims of violence, and the average rate, between 2001 – 2014, of homicides involving Indigenous female victims was four times higher than that of homicides involving non-Indigenous female victims. Current public data on MMIWG oversimplifies and underrepresents the scale of the issue, yet still demonstrates a complex and pervasive pattern of violence against Indigenous women and girls who are often targeted because of their gender and Indigenous identity.
The 2014 RCMP Operational Overview notes that police recorded 1,017 incidents of Aboriginal female homicides between 1980 and 2012 and 164 missing Aboriginal female investigations dating back to 1952. There have been a number of reports indicating numbers are significantly higher.4
On June 3, 2019, the Final Report from the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released. In that report, the Inquiry made 231 Calls for Justice. It also concluded that the acts of violence against Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people in Canada constitutes “genocide.”
Honouring Indigenous Women
The Native Women’s Association of Canada created the Honouring Indigenous Women Toolkit as an educational resource to help heal Indigenous communities, and address the need to empower and restore honour and respect for Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. The toolkit can be used by Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people to understand the traditional roles of their respected, valued and honoured ancestors.
The toolkit and accompanying guide can also be used for youth to learn traditional values and help foster a sense of pride for having Indigenous heritage. It identifies many of the changes necessary to achieve reconciliation, healing, respect and honour, and helps youth connect to their hearts, spirits and senses of self. Some of the topics revolve around the traditional roles of women, defining respect and honour, valuing one’s self, mindfulness, sustainability in culture, 2SLGBTQQIA, MMIWG and more. Alongside the support of this resource, communities can heal through equality, respect and honour. We hope to encourage future generations to take pride in who they are.
How to support
Stay educated and up to date
● Learn about Indigenous Canadian history from the Indigenous perspective
● Read the final report from the National Inquiry
● Listen to the truths shared
● Acknowledge human and Indigenous rights violations and their impact.
Become an ally
● Continue to educate yourself (learning and unlearning are actions to Reconciliation)
● Support others in every relationship and encounter you take part in.
● Support the community – Amplify the voices, efforts, and lift up Indigenous Women everywhere, all the time and in every space)
● Be respectfully active in the community
● Actively work to break down barriers
Speak out against racism, sexism, ignorance, homophobia and transphobia in the home, work, and community. Teach or encourage others to do the same!
She is someone’s daughter
She is someone’s mother.
She is someone’s sister.
She is someone’s cousin.
SHE IS SOMEONE.
Almost every Indigenous family has been affected by this. We have been personally impacted and none of us are not inflicted with the grief, pain, sadness, trauma and tragedy of losing our loved one(s) because Indigenous women continue to be seen as less than, possibly disposable, targeted because they may be vulnerable from the extensive intergenerational trauma, displacement, racism, genocide and on-going displacement from colonial laws, policies and practices.
Read Women in Leadership Reports:
Bridge to Gender Equity Report and the Bridge to Gender Equity Toolkit will be released soon! Join the WiL newsletter to keep connected!