Why Indigenous youth are raising awareness of MMIWG with every stitch of a ribbon skirt

Unresolved: Gladys Tolley

The symbol of the red dress has become synonymous with the crisis of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

It's why a grassroots group of Indigenous youth are making red ribbon skirts in their honour.

Just being Indigenous, you're connected to this crisis no matter what,” said Gabrielle Fayant, co-founder of Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G) a youth-led grassroots Indigenous organization based in Ottawa.

When we talk and share about our experiences, it's not like three degrees of separation. It's literally one degree of separation. That's how close we are to this crisis.”

Unresolved: Gladys Tolley

Red Dress Day is observed May 5, inspired by Jaime Black's ongoing art series, the REDress Project, to draw attention to the issue, and coincides with the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in the United States.

  • Red dress campaign honouring MMIWG in Sudbury for 4th year

Over the weekend, A7G held a virtual ribbon skirt making workshop led by Anishinaabe artist Amanda Fox to mark the occasion. Supplies were provided to 25 youth and families of MMIWG2S living in the Ottawa region.

“It's really important for me to spread awareness about MMIWG just because I've been impacted and so many other people have been impacted. It's not only spreading awareness but also sharing something that we should all know how to do which is to make ribbon skirts,” said Fox.

“When we make those ribbon skirts, we're going to be wearing them. We're going to be the ones spreading that awareness.”

Fayant said the goal was to give a skirt to a family that experienced loss or is searching for a loved one, or in honour of their loved ones. The workshop was inspired by the work of Bridget Tolley with Families of Sisters in Spirit.

Unresolved: Gladys Tolley

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Tolley's mother Gladys Tolley, who was struck and killed by a Sûreté du Québec police cruiser in front of her home.

Tolley, who is from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Que., said she appreciates the efforts of Indigenous youth to raise awareness and address violence against women as she feels the federal government's response to the national inquiry's calls for justice have not not been sufficient.

“I'm so thankful for the youth to continue this because it's far from over,” said Tolley.

“If it's a ribbon skirt, a pin or earrings, I love that because I want them to always remember . . . . All this gets to my heart to see all these youth doing these things to continue to bring awareness, and we need to do it because [the violence] is not stopping and the government doesn't seem to be doing anything.”

Unresolved: Gladys Tolley

Niquita Thomas, a 22-year-old Cayuga woman living in Ottawa, plans on gifting the skirt to her mother.

“It means to me that I can be able to raise awareness for an issue that is hidden in the dark because this is something that a lot of people are afraid to talk about,” said Thomas.

“It's about raising awareness that this is something that still happens every day.”

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