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Small steps have been taken to address this epidemic, which is often the result of systemic racism. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland—the first Indigenous woman in that role—announced the creation of a new unit that will investigate missing and murdered Native Americans. But the issue rages on. With her REDress Project, Black hopes to give these Indigenous women a much-needed voice, while educating others who may not be aware of what’s going on. “The art replaces statistics in a way,” says Arin Fay, the Touchstones Nelson curator who worked with Black on the exhibit. “People get really bogged down and don’t know how to respond to the numbers—but the dresses powerfully communicate it without all of that.”
Black showed her first REDress Project at the University of Winnipeg in 2011, and the project has since traveled to many different cities across North America. The red dresses displayed have all been donated to Black from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “I ended up getting 300 dresses donated from all across Canada and beyond within the first year of doing the work,” says Black. “People were really receptive to showing their support for families.” The color red symbolizes many things—blood, anger, love—but was ultimately chosen because it’s eye-catching. “Those dresses have such a powerful presence. They are a reflection of the power and strength of Indigenous women that have come before us,” says Black. “When people walk by the red dresses, they can’t [ignore them.]”
The REDress Project has since evolved into a national movement. The color red has become a symbol for MMIW across North America in general, extending well beyond just Black’s work. In Canada, May 5 is now Red Dress Day, when people of all backgrounds are encouraged to wear red to raise awareness. Indigenous activists also frequently wear red at MMIW gatherings, where red handprints are often painted onto their faces too. Black’s REDress Project has clearly played a big role in red becoming the official MMIW campaign color, though many wearers also say red is the only color that spirits can see. They wear it so that the souls of those they’ve lost can be with them.
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