Red dresses in the office window
If you walk by the CBT office at 316 Main Street later this week, you may notice the red dresses hanging in the front window. The simple and elegant dresses are adorned with black silhouetted feathers and bring awareness to the staggering amount of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) across Canada, but especially those from our community.
Carol Frank from Tla-o-qui-aht began making the dresses one year ago with support from a CBT Culture Neighbourhood Small Grant, but her community has been remembering and drawing attention to MMIWG far longer. Eighteen years ago today (June 30th, 2002) Carol’s niece Lisa Marie went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Nanaimo, where she was living. She never made it home. Carol says, “she was 21 at the time and was just about to move into a new apartment at the beginning of July with a new job.” Carol and other family members were going to drive across the island to help her move. Carol says that the next morning, “we kept trying calling her phone and she just didn’t pick up… that’s when we knew something was wrong.”
So began many years of searches and talking with police. 18 years later, Lisa Marie’s friends, family and community are still looking for answers and closure. As the MMIWG movement gained momentum over the last couple years, Carol began to attend gatherings, noticed the red dresses, and decided to create some in memory of Lisa Marie and the other women who have disappeared from west coast communities over the years. “There are a lot of people here who don’t know that this happens all the time, especially in our community. We want to bring awareness to this issue, especially in the community where Lisa Marie is from.” Carol explains that the red dresses have various meanings. “To some, it is an empty garment of women no longer with us, hung in community to remember loved ones who are missing. Some believe red is the only colour the spirits can see.”
In the years following Lisa Marie’s disappearance, her friends and family began to organize an annual “Walk for Lisa” event every June 30th, but this year it will be just Lisa’s family and close friends due to the pandemic. This year, a new “Lights on for Lisa” initiative has been created: we can leave our porch lights on all night on June 30th to show Lisa, her family, friends, and the RCMP that we have not forgotten her. You can check out the Lights on for Lisa Facebook event here.
While there is increasing amounts of discussion about MMIW in Canada, it is crucial to keep drawing attention to the ongoing gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. Just over one year ago, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released. Carol Frank travelled to Quebec to be part of its presentation to Prime Minister Trudeau. The report is comprised of the truths of more than 2,380 family members of thousands of MMIWG (some estimates suggest roughly 4,000 but lack of police documentation is a central theme of the report) and delivers 231 individual Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.
If you want to learn more about Lisa’s disappearance, you can listen to a podcast about it here: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/where-is-lisa-island-crime-season-1/id1513479877