On Monday, a day dedicated to celebrating love, and continuing through the week, a meaningful initiative at Niagara College is dedicated to opening hearts to lives lost and impacted by violence.
Both campuses of Niagara College have joined Brock University in hosting the REDress Project, beginning Valentine’s Day, to raise awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (2SLGBTQQIA+) people.
The REDress Project pays tribute to individuals lost to violence, as well as those who survived, and acknowledges the impacts that violence had on their families, friends and communities, says Lianne Gagnon, Niagara College director of student services.
“It’s only by shining a light and providing information that we can take the steps to expose the truth of the violence. That’s why we feel it’s so important to educate our students and staff about the violence perpetrated against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, in the hope of eliminating it,” said Gagnon. “As postsecondary providers in Niagara, we are proud to stand with our partners at Brock and take a lead role in informing our communities to end the violence and work towards a more diverse and inclusive future for all.”
Niagara College is hosting a week-long display of red dresses in prominent outdoor locations at its Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake and its Welland Campus. The dress displays are intended to be powerful visual reminders of the thousands of MMIWG and 2SLGTBQQIA+ people who were victims of colonial violence over the past 40 years, and to help raise awareness of the REDress Project throughout the college community.
“Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to host the REDress Project because the victims and survivors that we honour are not just statistics; each one of them was a person who was loved,” said NC Indigenous student success leader Emily Schutt. “We are proud to join our partners at Brock in displaying the red dresses on our campuses, and hope that the initiative encourages everyone to take the time to learn more about the REDress Project and the MMIWG inquiry.”
The red dress displays, for which the REDress Project was named, originally began as an art installation by Métis artist Jamie Black in 2011 at the University of Winnipeg, and has since been replicated in communities across Canada.
Monday evening, Niagara Falls and Brock University’s Schmon Tower were illuminated in red in honour of the REDress Project.
A National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was launched in September 2016. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was published in June 2019. The report contained 231 Calls for Justice, which also included a public campaign to expose what has been experienced by Indigenous people and a national task force to examine the unresolved cases. In 2021, the Government of Canada released its plan to address the tragedies experienced by MMIWG and 2SLBGTQQIA+ by committing $2.2 billion dollars to fund the goals outlined in the final report.
A National Action Plan was released in 2021 that focuses on ending the violence against MMIWG and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
This will be the second year that the college is hosting the REDress project and red dress displays on its campuses.
Indigenous education at Niagara College launched a REDress Drive in early 2022 to collect donations of red dresses from the college community in support of the initiative.