Jennifer Touchie prepares to re-hang red dresses on May 1 after vandals removed the dresses she had originally hung along Highway 4 days before. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Jennifer Touchie prepares to re-hang red dresses on May 1 after vandals removed the dresses she had originally hung along Highway 4 days before. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Red Dress Day honours Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous people

As vandals target displays, May 5 marks Red Dress Day across the country

Tomorrow is the day the message behind all those red dresses comes into sharpest focus.

May 5 is Red Dress Day and the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

In the 14-year period from 2001 to 2015, Statistics Canada reported the homicide rate for Indigenous women was nearly six times higher than that for non-Indigenous women. According to the West Vancouver Island-based Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC), there are 53 Nuu-chah-nulth females whom have been murdered or a suspicious death. The two missing Nuu-chah-nulth females are Lisa Marie Young and Margaret Klaver. Both these cases are unsolved.

“We have had many losses in the Nuu-chah-nulth. Be it missing, murdered, no justice, not enough evidence to charge people who have murdered or hurt our people. Our families hang these dresses and shirts to honour the people we have lost,” said Jennifer Touchie, a member of the Ucluelet First Nation, one of 14 bands within the 10,000-person Nuu-chah-nulth.

Over the weekend, Touchie hung, for the second time, three red dresses and one blue shirt to honour her brother James Williams who died from blunt head trauma last summer. Much to her disbelief and heartache, vandals removed the red dresses she had originally hung the week before.

“I could not believe that someone would do that. I felt heartbroken. I really felt upset and a lot of anger. It takes a lot of strength within to hang these dresses up. When people take them down that really hurts us. It hurts our soul, it breaks our heart,” she said.

It was at least the third such recent incident on Vancouver Island recently.

RELATED: B.C. woman won’t let vandals who tore down her red dresses win

RELATED: Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

President of the NTC Judith Sayers said tearing down the red dresses are acts of racism.

“The hanging of red dresses was to bring more awareness of MMIWG, the large number of them and the lack of finding them or resolving the murders. This is a reality for Indigenous people and those that will not accept these truths, have no understanding of the situation, nor do they want to understand and preventing more MMIWG from going missing or preventing the violent acts,” said Sayers.

Anita and Tyson Touchie helped re-hang the dresses on Ucluelet First Nations treaty lands just before the Tofino-Ucluelet Highway 4 junction. Anita says the red dresses and blue shirts bring awareness to the history of trauma that generations of Indigenous people have faced since contact and colonization.

“We are still recovering from that,” said Anita. “Missing and murdered Indigenous women, men and children. Our children who are in foster care system. Our people who have addictions… You know the root connection to all of it is the trauma and the history of trauma connected to cultural oppression and residential school. It’s all connected. In our language we say hišukʔiš c̕awaak everything is one and everything is connected. When we bring awareness to this is about wanting people to know there is something wrong and it’s not okay,” she said.

Ucluelet’s new detachment commander Sergeant Kevin Smith said they are investigating the removal of the red dresses. He said without knowing what the motivation was, they cannot officially say the incident was a hate crime.

“At this point, we are just treating it as a theft. I don’t know the motivation behind it and therefore we are just investigating it and see where it leads. I don’t know if it was taken because someone needed clothes and didn’t realize. I think we need to educate people on why the dresses are there and the importance of it and the cultural significance of it,” said Sgt. Smith.

Touchie hopes the investigation is strong.

“Sometimes it feels like the police don’t care enough. We are all the same and we shouldn’t be treated differently. We should be treated with respect, love and kindness,” she said.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ: RCMP needs structural changes to address racism: MMIWG commissioner

READ: Quebec’s BEI completes investigation into Chantel Moore’s fatal shooting by police officer

READ: First Nation demands transparency in Tofino RCMP shooting investigation

missing First NationsMMIWGunsolved crimes

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – checkpoint at Manning Park

Four checkpoints are set up Thursday, May 6 around the province

South Surrey nurse Brittany Williams has been involved with the Burn Camp since 2013. (Contributed photo)
Burn camp ‘really puts things in perspective,’ says South Surrey nurse

Brittany Williams’ experiences hoped to boost Hometown Heroes Lottery fundraiser

(Delta Police Department photo)
Police remind residents to lock doors and windows after series of Ladner break-and-enters

Warning issued after trio of incidents on Ferry Road and Frigate in the early hours of May 6

Serena Deol, Jaspreet Deol, Madison Sweeney and Tanveer Pannu (pictured clockwise from top left) are Surrey United soccer players recruited to the University of Fraser Valley. (submitted photos)
Surrey United soccer quartet sign to play for UFV Cascades

Three of the university’s recruits are Panorama Ridge Secondary students

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read