HOLDING SPACE : THE RED DRESS PROJECT
by Rachel Dale and Amy Cook
The hearts of Whitehorse residents weighed heavily as the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada grew by two on Apr. 19, 2017.
The RCMP found Wendy Margaret Carlick, 51, and Sarah Macintosh, 53, of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation at a residence in the McIntyre subdivision that day. Wendy was mother to Angel Carlick, a 19-year-old woman found murdered in a wooded area outside Whitehorse in 2007. Up until her own passing, Carlick advocated for more support for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the community. She spoke publicly of her frustration with the investigation into her daughter’s death.
For decades, many police and politicians and members of the general public have demonstrated a distinct lack of concern as hundreds of women disappeared from their homes and were found murdered across the country. As far back as the 1950s, Indigenous women in communities across Canada, began to vanish with marked frequency. Years later, even as an official list was compiled, the tally of missing and murdered women grew and a genuine crisis unfolded, authorities paid scarce attention.
Many media narratives have failed to illustrate the multiplicity of experiences of the missing and murdered. Their identities were often masked by their marginalized pasts, resulting in their continuous displacement and neglect.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women represents an effort to right the wrongs of the past on the part of the Canadian government. The inquiry set out to examine the systemic causes of violence directed against Indigenous women in Canada and to find a way to memorialize those who have gone missing and who have been murdered.
The first public hearings got underway in Whitehorse from May 30 to June 2, under a tent on the grounds of the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Engaging in conversation about missing and murdered women is an excruciating experience, especially for those affected. The hearings began at a time when the wounds resulting from recent deaths remained raw in the hearts of surrounding First Nations communities. It took such strength for the families of 14 missing or murdered women to speak out and relive their tragedies through the hearing.
While serious questions continue to plague the inquiry, including its treatment of family members, other projects have been emerging to try to give voice to those directly affected by this Canadian travesty.
Seven years ago, Jaime Black, a Métis multidisciplinary artist based in Winnipeg, initiated a project to provide communities with an opportunity to approach and engage in a visual conversation.
The REDress Project is an installation art project – an aesthetic response to missing and murdered women in Canada. According to Black, the empty dresses evoke a presence through the marking of absence. The sight of bodiless red dresses hanging in public spaces acts as a reminder of the many lives lost but not forgotten. The installations are haunting. That’s exactly the point.
Displays have been held at museums and on university and college campuses across Canada.
In July, 2017, for the first time, an installation was set up along the highway leading to the Atlin Arts and Music Festival, near the Yukon border. In order to signify their support for missing and murdered women, locals of Whitehorse and Atlin were asked to donate red dresses.