Students at Peter Skene Ogden took time Wednesday to honour B.C.’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, Trans, and Two-Spirited people with a “Red Dress Day.”
The national event, on May 5, kicked off with a march around the 100 Mile Marsh and a traditional drumming ceremony, performed by Cheryl Archie-Williams and Victoria Frank, who sang the Honour Song and Stat’imc Women’s Warrior Song following a moment of silence.
Red handprints also lined the school hallway to represent “our lost and stolen sisters,” said Amber Christopher, a teacher and First Nations cultural development worker, while red dresses or red clothes donated by the Cedar Crest Society were hung on stands outside.
“The red dress represents the women and girls no longer with us,” Christopher said. “In our culture, red is the only colour our spirits can see.”
Christopher said she organized the event to raise awareness of B.C.’s more than 1,000 missing and murdered women and girls. According to the findings of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Indigenous women are 11 times more likely to be murdered or missing, while they make up 16 per cent of all female homicide victims.
Chief Commission Marion Buller said in the report the country is facing a crisis. “The continuing murders, disappearances and violence prove that this crisis has escalated to a national emergency that calls for timely and effective responses,” she wrote.
Christopher said she wanted to give students the facts, so they can understand what has happened and continues to occur across the province. Many students approached her after the event, she said. And when her aunt, Archie-Williams, sang the Stat’imc Women’s Warrior Song, she and others were moved to tears. Archie-Williams’ sister Darlene had been murdered.
“I’m very interested in teaching students more about our culture and why we do things in a certain way and the roots in our traditions,” she said, adding there are reasons why many First Nations women won’t go anywhere alone. “Just getting students involved was very strong for me, very empowering.”
The entire school pulled together for the event, she added, from the woodworking class building stands for the red dresses to First Nations liaison Angel Smith creating beaded pins for the staff. The Eliza Archie Memorial School at Canim Lake also sold buttons. 100 Mile RCMP Const. Jason Flett also attended the event.
“The whole school was involved,” Christopher said. ”It was a really great experience.”