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Observance at Ottawa City Hall meant to give time to process meaning of National Red Dress Day


In advance of National Red Dress Day on Sunday, May 5, the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition (OAC) held its own observance at City Hall Friday.

The day is meant to shine a light on the suffering of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, who have statistically been higher-than-average victims of violence, sexual assault, and murder. OAC officials say the reasoning behind holding an early event was to give attendees time to process the day's meaning ahead of May 5.

"I hope that people will walk away with an understanding and awareness of the severity of what First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls, and children have had to endure," said OAC co-chair Stephanie (Mikki) Adams on Friday.

The Ottawa River Singers bookended the ceremony with a drum circle, while Indigenous leaders read opening prayers.

As attendees crafted miniature red dresses to put up on poster boards, they were invited to present offerings to ones on display that bear the names of woman and girls who never made it home.

For event artist Orianna Elijah-Brown, who contributed seven dresses for the day, she says it was a difficult project to undertake.

"I was pretty down because I was listening to a lot of the stories of the some of the missing and murdered Indigenous women," Elijah-Brown recalled. "I heard stories similar to like myself - some of the girls were sewers and artists and it was really emotional listening to those stories while making the dresses."

At the far side of the venue was a gallery detailing the suffering and achievements of Indigenous peoples.

Photos detail the chronology, from settlers arriving on Turtle Island in the 15th century, to the systematic oppression of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities, to the discovery of mass graves resulting from residential schools.

"It's touching me profoundly, actually, to see it, and I've known about it for a long time, but to actually see images like that is very powerful," said resident Liz Wigfull.

"It really speaks to what people have suffered over such a long time," said Wendy Muckle. "It's hard to imagine how long it's going to take us to make it right."

While the day highlighted the nation's dark history, it also focused on the healing work that has been accomplished in the community, including the establishing of the Indigenous Women's Safety Table.

"You've got community leadership happening here in Ottawa, where the local Indigenous community comes together and works collectively towards building Ottawa to be a safer place," said Ontario Native Women's Association CEO Cora McGuire-Cyrrette. 


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