Red Dress Day 2024

Date 3 May, 2024

Casey Desjarlais, co-founder of Decolonial Clothing Co., and Avery Delaney, Indigenous Outreach Coordinator for FIRST UNITED, with the FIRST UNITED Red Dress Day shirt and tote bag (with illustrations by Shadae Johnson and Iyanla Jensen-Johnson).

Today, FIRST UNITED staff will be gathering in honour of Red Dress Day (which takes place on May 5), otherwise known as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit and Gender-Diverse People (MMIWG2S+). Now in its 15th year, Red Dress Day is a day to remember and grieve the thousands of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people who have been murdered or gone missing across Canada.

In a recent interview with The Discourse, Angela Sterritt, author and journalist (from the Wilp Wiik’aax of the Gitanmaax community within the Gitxsan Nation on her dad’s side and from Bell Island, Newfoundland on her mom’s side) explained the importance of continuing to raise awareness on this day.

“I think these days are important because it kind of forces people to think about things that they’re not used to thinking about on a daily level. Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other race of females in Canada; 16 times more likely than white women. So, if you are a white woman, then it’s perhaps something that you don’t need to think about when you leave the house each day—that you or your relatives might not make it home alive. These are things that Indigenous people are forced to think about every day.”

Many of those we grieve come from the Downtown Eastside and/or have loved ones in the community. At FIRST UNITED, we feel the pain and impact that this crisis has on the neighbourhood. For some of us, the crisis hits very close to home.

“This cause has been a big deal to me,” Avery Delaney, Indigenous Outreach Coordinator (Blackfoot-Blood Tribe/Kainai) shared. “I was always advocating and wanting change but recently, a little over a year ago, one of my best friends was murdered. I never thought it would happen to me. Now this cause is nearer to my heart. I want to make sure everyone is aware.”

To commemorate the day, and as part of our commitment to putting reconciliation into action, staff will meet in the afternoon to reflect and honour those lives that have been taken. We’ll also be joined by an Indigenous Elder who will share some reflections and talk about how we can be accountable and continue to spread awareness. Staff will enjoy an Indigenous lunch catered by Four Directions Catering, and participate in a crafting activity (making mini red dresses), led by Lauren Sanders, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain (Prairie Band Potawatomi and Kickapoo Nation of Kansas).

Avery and Casey outside of Decolonial Clothing Co.’s storefront in Vancouver.

We’ll also wear special FIRST UNITED Red Dress Day shirts that feature a design by local Indigenous mother and daughter illustrators Shadae Johnson [Tsartlip, Syilx, Tutchone, Han (Wolf Clan)] and 11-year-old Iyanla Jensen-Johnson [Tsartlip, Syilx, Tutchone, Han (Wolf Clan), & Navajo]. Decolonial Clothing Co. collaborated with us to digitalize the design and print the shirts.

Avery, who organized the event, shared more about the unique shirts that staff will wear in solidary and support for MMIWG2S+. “I wanted to commission a local Indigenous artist to create this design that’s one-of-a-kind and special. I put out a call on social media and a few people messaged me. Shadae and her daughter have already done a lot to spread awareness and the cause is near and dear to their hearts. Hiring them felt like a very meaningful collaboration and it’s nice to be able to support Shadae and her family.”

On the morning of Red Dress Day (Sunday), Lauren and Avery will walk through the DTES neighbourhood to hand out roses and offer smudging to members of the community. The idea came from the Women’s Memorial March that happens every Valentine’s Day in the DTES to remember MMIWG2S+.

“It’s a way to say, I see you and acknowledge our humanity,” Lauren explained.

Some ways you can raise awareness and honour the lives of MMIWG2S+ on Red Dress Day:
1) Wear red.
2) Hang a red dress from your window.
3) Read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into MMIW.
4) Attend a Red Dress Day event in your community.

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