As May approaches, you may find red dresses hanging around various public places across Canada – these garments have become the symbol for one of Canada’s most important crises.
Red Dress Day (National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit People), is observed every year on May 5th. Inspired by the REDress Project installation by Métis artist Jaime Black, Red Dress Day has become a national day to raise awareness of the disproportionate violence faced by thousands of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
Statistics prove the violence against Indigenous women. Did you know that between 2015 and 2020, Indigenous women made up 24% of all female homicide victims in Canada, despite representing only 5% of the county’s population, or that Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people are 12 times as likely to go missing or be murdered, compared to non-Indigenous women?
Red Dress Day also calls attention to the legal mandates for government action on the crisis faced by Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals. In 2019, the Government of Canada released the final report of the National Enquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The final report comprised the truths of more than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared over two years of cross-country public hearings and gatherings – it also delivers 231 individual Calls for Justice.
The Calls for Justice are urgent actions directed toward governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and the Canadian population; they are vital in addressing the gendered and racialized violence within our country.
The inquiry’s final report described the violence it investigated to be, “a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples…empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential and day schools and breaches of human and Inuit and Metis and First Nations rights…”[i], declaring the violence to be “a national tragedy of epic proportion,” in 2019.
The Calls for Justice were the catalyst to the Government of Canada’s 2021 National Action Plan to End Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls, and the result of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, recommending 94 steps to address the legacy of residential schools, the 41st of which called for “investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.”
In addition to the findings of the government, only 53% of the cases in the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)’s Sisters in Spirit database have been solved – versus 84% of murder cases across Canada.
The National Inquiry was the result of decades of advocacy from families, survivors and community organizations, along with many calls for a national enquiry.
While some progress has been made in heeding the 231 Calls for Justice since their creation[ii] – including more public education, funding commitments, improved government services, direct support for survivors and families, awareness campaigns, commemorations and trauma-informed training, violence prevention, healing and support and community programs launched – much remains to be done.
The National Family and Survivors Circle criticized the National Action Plan in 2022[iii] for lacking accountability and oversight, and the NWAC described it as, “an aspirational document with no funding, timelines or measurable goals” when it was released.
In this year’s budget, the federal government promised $123 million[iv] over five years to subsidize initiatives related to its National Action Plan. Some of that funding will support a mechanism to measure progress on its commitments and the hiring of an Indigenous and human rights advocate and a “red dress alert,” which will issue public notices when an Indigenous woman, girl or member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community goes missing.
The federal government has been criticized for its slow movement and lack of action on its commitments by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which put out its own plan – Our Calls, Our Actions – from which 40 of 66 actions have been completed.