One hundred red dresses representing a portion of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2 Spirited People (MMIGW2S) in Manitoba were displayed in Bethel Heritage Park in Winkler, Saturday, to bring awareness to this part of the ongoing Indigenous history. The travelling exhibit is in the third year of bringing the powerful reality to communities across the Pembina Valley and to honour the lives of each Manitoban who has never made it home.
Pembina Valley Red Dress Project (PVRDP) Member Christina Cearns said as an Indigenous woman, who was taken from her reserve and adopted into a non-Indigenous home, it was important for her to join this group.
"I have joined the Pembina Valley Red Dress Project because it is something dear to my heart, me being an Indigenous woman myself, and understanding the impact it has on the Indigenous community. Along with the children that we have as a montage."
An "Every Child Matters" portion of the exhibit had a tree of Orange Shirts with children's shoes leading up to the "Every Child Matters" banner in remembrance of the many children who never made it home from Residential Schools and the abuse of those who survived.
Cearns explained why it is important to bring awareness to MMIGW2S.
"It's a time to grieve. It is a grieving, but it's also an honouring system as well, all in one. With suffering comes compassion. And with that, we can grow as a community on that, by sharing that, and in our history as well."
One tree has several red dresses with names embroidered in them, representing families living in the Pembina Valley with a missing or murdered loved one.
Cearns said she was able to share her own story with people too.
"The impact it has had and then sharing your story with them on the whole aspect of just being adopted out off the reserve to some of the people and then listening to their stories come back. And then, having that time of healing. To cry together, to share that story, listen to what is going on, and then share the perspective of why this is important and why it's becoming a huge thing in our country."
Executive Director for Genesis House Ang Braun explained why the organization took part in the exhibit.
"Indigenous women and girls are at a significantly higher risk than the rest of the population in Canada to experience gender-based violence. And so, the more light we can shed on that whole topic; historically, what has happened and where we are today and what we need to see going forward, it's important that we're present at these events so that people know where they can go for help, but also, we can't hang red dresses every day. And so, when we're not hanging red dresses, what are we each doing in our daily lives that supports ending this tragedy?"
Cearns said learning about Indigenous culture was part of the conversations with people who took time to come through the parks. She was able to explain bead making and smudging to the many eager to learn.
"Most of them, when they come and they talk, if they have Indigenous background, it's been the same thing on what their stories were and just not having a voice, and them seeing this and the sad reminder over here. (Pointing to the Red Dresses on display) It is sad, but in a beautiful way, we're calling them back home."
The PV Red Dress Project will be in Killarney Park June 3rd and in Morden for Indigenous Day June 24th. Follow the PVRDP on Facebook to learn more.