Red dresses hang in the trees at Niagara’s post-secondary institutions to symbolize missing and murdered Indigenous women

red dresses hang in trees on the Brock University campus Red dresses hang from trees at Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus. The dresses are part of an art installation called the REDress Project, which was created by Canadian artist Jaime Black to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender minorities. JULIE JOCSAK / TORSTAR

In conjunction with Niagara College, Brock University is hosting a weeklong event to bring attention to the violence that plagues Indigenous women.

The REDress Project, originated at University of Winnepeg in 2011 by Métis artist Jamie Black, has since been replicated nationwide.

Empty red dresses signify the loss of life of thousands of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit, lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people over the past 40 years to colonial violence.

Since 2019, red dresses have been visible on Brock’s campus.

For Ashley Buck, Indigenous student success leader at Niagara College, the art installation is personal.

“It’s tough. These are our friends and our family members,” she said.

“The process of hanging red dresses is to evoke emotion and address a lived reality for many Indigenous communities,” she said. “It was designed to serve as a reminder of how deep this affects our communities.

“Many Indigenous people know more than one woman or child who has lost their life or has mysteriously vanished.”

The REDress event kicked off on Monday. The theme of Monday’s event was Families of MMIWG. Local Indigenous activist and community member Linda John shared her family’s experiences.

The event will culminate on Friday with the screening of “Our Sisters in Spirit.” It is a paid event with all proceeds going to Abbey House; a St. Catharines-based Indigenous women’s transitional home.

This year, due to novel coronavirus, the university elected to transition to an online format. The REDress Project will bring together speakers from across the country to highlight some of the issues affecting Indigenous women.

Four of five panel discussions will be broadcast on Niagara College and Brock social media platforms. The exception being Wednesday’s event, Brock’s Decolonial Reading Circle hosts Helen Knott. All interested participants will have to register.

Brock’s acting vice-provost, Indigenous engagement, Robyn Bourgeois said continuing to raise awareness of the longstanding injustices Indigenous women face is of critical importance.

“Violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGTBQQIA people has always been a part of colonialism in Canada, and it continues to be a part of Canadian society because Canada remains a colonial country,” she said in a statement.

“While Canada undertook a formal inquiry into this violence, the government has yet to respond to its findings and, more importantly, take action to protect Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGTBQQIA people from violence. This inaction comes with a tremendous cost for Indigenous Peoples.”

For information on the event, visit Brock’s website:

Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: [email protected]