When Mandy Richard, a second-year at St. Thomas University, hung up red dresses around campus in early October, she was expecting a mix of reactions. Instead, she was surprised by the number of students who were inspired and moved by the art installation.
Mandy was following the footsteps of Jaime Black, the woman who started The REDress project. The dresses are meant to symbolize missing and murdered aboriginal women and honour their memory.
Jaime Black visited St. Thomas last week to put up red dresses and speak. Julie Kaye also gave a talk titled, Mobilizing Collective Outrage from the West to the Atlantic: Canada’s Violence Against Indigenous Women, in Kinsella Auditorium last Wednesday night.
The events were sponsored by St. Thomas University’s Women’s Studies and Gender Studies program and the Peace Studies program, as well as the Office of Research Services to increase student awareness of violence against aboriginal women.
Prof. Josephine Savarese, the acting coordinator of women’s and gender studies and an associate professor in criminology, says it is important to think and talk about the violence.
“When we take the time to hear stories and view this project we’re saying these lives are worth remembering,” said Savarese. “Every time we do that we denounce the perpetrators and we denounce the violence.”
According to Savarese, the REDress project is especially powerful because it is meant to be displayed publicly, exposed to the elements.
“The project has to withstand every kind of environmental condition and so does our commitment to this issue,” she said, “In all weather, this life is important.”
Julie Kaye spoke about the systemic problems that oppress indigenous women in Canada noting the new Liberal government’s promise to conduct a national inquiry.
According to Savarese, the debate around the national inquiry revolves around whether Canadians need more research or immediate action.
“We do need action, but we can’t act until we know exactly what the problem is.”
Richard says no matter how the government handles the issue, awareness is still key.
“Even if the government doesn’t do anything, it’s widely known – we’re still getting that message across.”
Both Richard and Savarese believe the efforts of Jaime Black and Julie Kaye have increased student involvement and understanding and issue debated during the recent federal election.
“Students can use Jaime’s visit to remind them that they are important and have an important role to play,” said Savarese.