A small group of volunteers have gathered in Edmonton every Saturday this month to make red ribbon skirts for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., people gather at the downtown public library to work on the Red Ribbon Skirt Project, a movement to bring attention to violence against Indigenous women.
“We wanted to start this as Indigenous women. If we don’t use our voices, then who else will?” said Brandi Brazeau, one of the organizers.
Brazeau, who is Woodlands Cree from Edmonton, and another organizer, Samantha Meng, who is Plains Cree from Waterhen Lake First Nation, were inspired by Jamie Smallboy, whose art installation REDress helped spark the movement to the Red dress.
Their goal is to make 100 skirts by May 5 – Red Dress Day, a day to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls – and donate them to affected families.
Danielle Barry, one of the volunteers, has already worked on three skirts. She said it was nice to be able to spend time on weekends supporting this cause.
“There is a certain lack of effort when it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” Barry said. “So it’s important that when we are able to help ourselves, we do what we can.”
Being at the library also allowed Brazeau and Meng to connect with and involve many members of the non-Indigenous community as well, Meng said.
“We as Indigenous people know the injustices we’ve suffered, but a lot of people don’t know how bad it really is,” she said.
Brazeau agrees. She is encouraged to see so many different people joining the project.
“We had amazing allies,” she said.
Waterhen Lake First Nation has been another key supporter of the project, Meng said, as their financial donation enabled the group to purchase the materials needed for the skirts.
All of this support has left Meng and Brazeau hopeful about their mission to raise awareness and support the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“We are always there for them and we take care of them and we hear their voices,” Brazeau said. “We won’t stop helping them until we get justice for our women.”
It’s an urgent mission for Brazeau and Meng who earlier this week took part in a memorial walk for Billie Johnson – a 30-year-old mother of two, who disappeared on Christmas Eve 2020. Her remains were found in a year since.
Of the eight people on the march, four had lost loved ones, Meng said.
“It’s crazy how vast it is.”
Next week, Meng plans to iron and wrap the ribbon skirts. The skirts will be blessed by an elder in a pipe ceremony before being released to families on May 5.
Red ribbon skirts will be a key part of the day because, according to Cree tradition, red is the only color the spirits can see.
Bear Clan Patrol staged a march from Churchill Square to Beaver Hills House Park on the morning of May 5.
Meng and Brazeau hope the spirits will see the families in red ribbon skirts and walk alongside them.