Hundreds of people gathered at Calgary’s Field of Crosses on Thursday to mark the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, also known as Red Dress Day.
Red ribbons were tied to trees along Memorial Drive, symbolizing the reclamation of power for family and friends of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, as Calgarians honour those who lost their lives.
“The ribbons hold the memories and the spirits of our loved ones,” said Deborah Green Gopher, who co-organized the event.
“People that have gone into the next world, their names and all these things have been prayed over and smudged over by our elders and our knowledge keepers.”
Gopher lost her 23-year-old sister Eleanor Theresa (Laney) Ewenin, of Calgary, in 1982 when she was murdered.
“Our family is heavily involved in advocating for the movement and for the protection of our people,” she said. “We do that through marches, through rallies, through gathering and partnering with government organizations and policing services to try to change the systemic barriers.”
The day was especially emotional for the family of 25-year-old Joey English, who watched solemnly as a temporary monument created in her honour was unveiled.
English was reported missing on June 9, 2016. Her remains were later discovered in the community of Crescent Heights.
The monument showcases a red dress with seven sisters – inspired by the design of Agnes Woodward.
Family spokesperson Autumn EagleSpeaker says they are working with the city to create a permanent monument which will raise awareness and act as an education piece for the community.
“The takeaway for families is that when you are seeking justice, we hear you. When you are feeling sad, we feel sad with you. And your loved ones, we love them too… and we’re a community. So when I say that you’re not alone, as a community, you will always stand with you,” EagleSpeaker said.
RED DRESSES ALLEGEDLY REMOVED FROM ROADWAYS
Co-organizer of Calgary’s Red Dress Day event Yvonne Henderson says volunteers were confronted by a group of what she believes to be employees of Carmacks Maintenance Services late Wednesday evening along Memorial Drive.
Henderson notes that red dresses were hung up on trees, but then allegedly removed by Carmacks employees and thrown in the trash.
“They (Carmacks) said it was illegal,” said Henderson.
“When I talked to them, I said ‘how was it illegal? We have a card explaining Please Don’t Touch The Dresses. We’re going to pick them up and – with the Bear Clan Patrol – this is what we’re doing for a huge event tomorrow.'”
Henderson says the incident proved to her why Red Dress Day events need to continue to be held.
“We always talk about reconciliation, we hear these words thrown around, and Indigenous people are always the first to step forward and say, ‘okay, this is what we’re doing.’ We’re not stepping forward anymore,” she said.
“We need non-Indigenous people to step forward. We need them to have actions that match their false and empty words.”
Carmacks confirmed to CTV News that it is aware of an incident that took early Thursday morning, and says a thorough investigation will now be launched.
Manager of Carmacks Maintenance Services in Calgary, Phillip Mendive, says he will be speaking with his night crew.
“From what I understand, there were some dresses being hung on infrastructure within the provincial highways of Deerfoot Trail, at which time our patrollers identified it, which typically is the requirement of our contract,” he said.
“They removed them, and there were some discussions with the group that was hanging them, so for right now, that’s all the information I do have.”
Mendive says he will make it a priority to raise awareness of Indigenous issues amongst his employees.
“We do need to educate our co-workers and employees more on this topic,” he added.
“I did reach out on a personal basis as well for my understanding and involvement with indigenous groups, and a big part is to communicate to them that we are looking into this and taking this matter seriously with a full investigation.”
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