‘Reclaiming power and place’: Red Dress Day in Calgary

Community members commemorated the second annual Mokinthisis Calgary Missing Murdered and Exploited Indigenous People (MMEIP) gathering on Thursday.

Angie Deranger and Alexis Head tie a banner that reads “You Are Loved” as in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

The event was organized by families and community members with support from Bear Clan Patrol. It is a local iteration of national Red Dress Day, which calls attention to disproportionate rates of violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people.   

Angie Deranger and Alexis Head tie a banner reading “You Are Loved” as Community Members gather on Red Dress Day to honour Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

People gathered at the Memorial Drive Field of Crosses — renamed the Field of Ribbons for the day’s events — for a day of singing, drumming, and sharing stories. 

Community Members gather on Red Dress Day to honour Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit at the Field of Crosses, renamed the Field of Red Ribbons for the day’s events in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Red dresses and ribbons were also hung at different locations in the city like the SAIT campus and Parkdale Blvd in N.W. Calgary.

Red dresses hang from the trees on the SAIT campus for Red Dress Day in memory of Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

A man bikes past a Red dresses hung on the side of Parkdale Boulevard N.W. in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Organiser Deborah Green (Gopher), pictured below, says while awareness is important, the event is primarily about “reclaiming power and place.” 

Community Members gather on Red Dress Day to honour Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit at the Field of Crosses, renamed the Field of Red Ribbons for the day’s events in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

The location was chosen to commemorate the life of Joey English, a young Piikani Nation woman whose remains were found in nearby Crescent Heights Park in 2016. She had died of a drug overdose and rather than contacting police, the man she was with dismembered her body and disposed of her remains.

“We’re here, number one, for the families,” said Green (Gopher). 

A representative of Joey English’s family hugs a friend after an emotional speech. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

A dress was placed on the site as a memorial for English. Organizers said they are working with the city to make it permanent.

Organizers say they are in talks to have this dress, part of a memorial for Joey English, placed on the site permanently. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Mayor Jyoti Gondek was also in attendance. 

Mayor Jyoti Gondek (centre) addresses attendees at a gathering to honour Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit people in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Alyssa Ryan is part of Stardale Women’s Group, a program that aims to empower young Indigenous women. The group performed two songs which Ryan says was difficult for some girls because of how close to home the issue is. 

Alyssa Ryan from Stardale Women’s Group poses for a photo in Calgary on May 5, 2022. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Green (Gopher) says she want governments and those in power to act. 

“We can have all the reports and calls to action we want, but if there’s not actual accountability and taking action to move that along we’ll still be in the same boat in 10 months.”

A red banner with the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women and the hashtag “saytheirname” photographed at the gathering. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

She believes this is not just an issue for Indigenous people to tackle. 

“All Canadians have a part to play in this as well.”

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