Voices that help the plight of the Red Dress

Another day to commemorate awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) has landed on Friday, May 5, as what is hoped to be a national event. Supporters and those that have been affected by the loss of a loved one are encouraged to help raise awareness by wearing, or displaying a red dress at their workspace or home.

Why a red dress?

Displaying a red dress is symbolically used as a reminder of the staggering number of indigenous women that are no longer here.

: An image of just one part of the REDress Project installation by Anishnabe and Cree Artist Jaime Black.

Coinciding with the mental, social and emotional impacts of losing an important woman, there are many indigenous women that utilize their voices to speak out about their lives in a public manner. This enables an outsider a moment into the mind of a particular indigenous woman, and also a moment to understand many of the struggles and traumas that are unique to indigenous women.

Here are only three prominent examples from Indian country:

Elissa Washuta wrote a novel she titled My Body is a Book of Rules, using 15 chapters to write about her mental illness, sexual trauma and indigenous identity. Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and she serves as the undergraduate adviser for the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. She is also a nonfiction faculty member in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her book was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

Mary Black wrote a poem that later became an Internet sensation that she called Quiet. Black is an Anishinabe actress that faced sexual assault when she was only 12 years old. She used her trauma as fuel in her video poem to convey the trauma and struggles that herself and other indigenous women have experienced. Her poem went viral on Facebook and encourages others to be vocal about their own trauma.

Pamela J. Peters orchestrated a poem she titled My Once Life, which points at the continuing impact of colonization on indigenous people. Peters is a Navajo multimedia documentarian that used her abilities to bring together 12 indigenous women to read her poem in a moving video. Her video was acclaimed in the 2016 Button Poetry Video Contest and her work was awarded first place.

As statistics show that one in three indigenous women will be or have been sexually harassed or assaulted, and indigenous women are the highest at risk for suicide (44 per cent as compared to 22 per cent for indigenous men), each of these presenters are using their voices to serve a different but unified purpose: they help to raise awareness about the realities that indigenous women and people must face.

And you can help to raise awareness too, simply by wearing or displaying a red dress on Friday, May 5.

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