Beyond Red Dress Day: Seven calls to action for allies

Non-Indigenous people have a role to play in the fight for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people in this country.

Sage smoke rose softly across screens in the IndigiNews virtual meeting space yesterday on the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG+ — also known as Red Dress Day — as team members smudged and prayed in their respective homes. 

To mark this time of remembering and honouring the Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender diverse people who have been victims of gender-based and racialized violence, the IndigiNews team came up with seven calls to action for allies. 

1. Read and share the MMIWG+ final report, especially the calls for justice

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report on June 3, 2017. It contains 231 individual calls for justice “directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.”

More than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers and Carriers contributed to the report by sharing their truths in “cross-country public hearings and evidence gathering,” according to the inquiry.

2. Hold those in positions of power to account

Review the 231 individual calls for justice developed by the National Inquiry. 

Which calls apply to your local government, health authority, police service or transportation authority? Which calls apply to leaders in education, social work, resource extraction and correctional services? Have they answered the calls that apply to them? 

If not, ask them what they plan to do and when they plan to do it by. Share responses on social media — or pitch accountability story ideas to journalists.  

Policies have real impacts on people’s lives. In his book How to Be an Antiracist, Black historian Ibram Kendi writes about how racist policymakers feed white privilege and uphold white supremacy.

Racist policymakers drum up fear of antiracist policies through racist ideas, knowing if the policies are implemented, the fears they circulate will never come to pass. Once the fears do not come to pass, people will let down their guards as they enjoy the benefits. Once they clearly benefit, most Americans will support and become the defenders of the antiracist policies they once feared,” he writes.

3. Take responsibility for white supremacy

White people need to take responsibility for the systems our ancestors created which continue to benefit or privilege us while oppressing and marginalizing others. We need to educate ourselves and support our loved ones in their learning journeys.

There are loads of books, podcasts and resources available to white and non-Indigenous people who are working to become better allies. Here are just a few:

For more ideas, visit Indigenous-owned bookstores like Iron Dog Books, located in the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, and Səl̓ílwətaɬ Nations (Vancouver, B.C.)

4. Listen to Indigenous people and show up for them

Seek out Indigenous writers, filmmakers, podcasters, musicians, artists, academics, journalists and advocates. Follow them on social media, attend their events, subscribe to their podcasts and buy their books, movies, music, etc. 

Volunteer with organizations supporting Indigenous people and communities. 

Build relationships with Indigenous co-workers and people in your neighbourhood. If and when an Indigenous person chooses to share something personal with you, really listen and hold space.

“Try not to express too much emotion or offer comparative experiences when listening to stories because it takes away from the person telling the story, and can make the storyteller feel like they have to console — which further causes trauma to those experiencing the pain,” says IndigiNews reporter Katłįà (Catherine) Lafferty.

5. Donate to organizations serving Indigenous women

While many organizations serve Indigenous people, in honour of MMIWG+ we’ve highlighted organizations dedicated to serving Indigenous women in particular:

  • Lil’ Red Dress project — as reported by APTN, the project uses money raised from the sale of beaded earrings and pins in the shape of red dresses to “create awareness about people who are missing online and through signs and billboards, mostly on Vancouver Island.”
  • GoFundMe campaigns raising money for private investigators, billboards and other supports in MMIWG+ cases, such as this campaign for April Lee-Ann Parisian, an Ojibwe woman with mixed heritage who has been missing since March 2020, and this campaign for Caitlin Potts, a mother from Samson Cree First Nation who has been missing since February 2016 and was last seen in Enderby, B.C.
  • DTES Women’s Centre — provides safe space, food, clothing and other resources to self-identified women and their children in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community. 
  • Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) — a national Indigenous organization that “works to preserve Indigenous culture and advance the well-being of all Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people, as well as their families and communities” through advocacy, policy and legislative analysis.

6. Hang a red dress in your window

Jaime Black, an artist of mixed Anishinaabe and Finnish descent, launched the REDress Project in Winnipeg over a decade ago. She hoped to “draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.”

Her project has since grown into an international movement, prompting people to hang red dresses from trees and in windows across so-called Canada. 

IndigiNews reporter Anna McKenzie has written several stories about communities gathering to hang dresses in honour of their loved ones. On April 17, she wrote about how leadership from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith came together to hang dresses after two people were filmed taking dresses down from trees and hoisting them into the bush along the Island Highway in Ladysmith, B.C.

Beyond Red Dress Day: here are seven calls to action for allies.
Leadership from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith came together on April 18 to hang red dresses after two people were filmed taking them down in Ladysmith, B.C. Photo by Anna McKenzie

“After the red dresses were taken down in Ladysmith, I heard at a ceremony to re-hang dresses that it was comforting to see how many red dresses were hung up throughout Ladysmith and along Island highway — in peoples homes, in businesses, and in and around the Town Hall,” says McKenzie. 

“We even got an email at IndigiNews from the Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton that a group of women heard about what happened in Ladysmith. In solidarity, they hung up red dresses in their territory.”

7. Remember that saviors aren’t needed — solidarity is

This tip comes from Amnesty International’s “10 Ways to Be a Genuine Ally to Indigenous Communities.”

“Solidarity is only meaningful if it is substantive and not merely performative,” they write. “This means showing up to support the community with your presence alone should be the baseline, not the end game.”

Brielle Morgan is a white, non-Indigenous woman living on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations in Vancouver, B.C. She’s grateful to be learning about allyship and decolonizing from her colleagues at IndigiNews.

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