International women’s day and the REDress Project

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March 8, 2018 is International Women’s Day, as every March 8 has been since the 1900s. This is, at least, what a quick google search has told me. To be honest, I never knew that much about International Women’s Day. I never attended events surrounding the day. Instead I’ve attended events throughout the years addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), but this year is different. This year some amazing people at Brock are making sure the day is centred around Indigenous women. It may seem selfish or ignorant to not be involved in International Women’s Day, something that is recognized worldwide, but for many this day doesn’t address their world. I am all for movements addressing issues such as unequal pay, but ending violence towards women is more important. Period. and for racialized women, especially Indigenous women this issue affects every aspect of our world.

Sometimes when I express the idea that events like International Women’s Day should be Indigenous centric, people get uncomfortable. Some get down right indignant, talking about safety for all women, and I absolutely agree, however, that’s just not reality. Racialized and Indigenous women are not highlighted in talks, actions, laws, or policy addressing women’s safety. Heck, they are very often not even included in the dialogue, especially in universities. In a country that was built on a system of violence towards Indigenous peoples, this seems bleeping ridiculous. So now that I’ve snuck a quick sentence in about colonialism, let’s talk about that. Simply put, colonization is the aftermath of a bunch of Europeans coming to North America during the 15th century and killing Indigenous peoples. Colonization is a present issue and not one of the past. Colonization is happening all around us, and initial contact set the precedent. During the early years, sexual violence was used as a tool of war. Violence towards Indigenous women, girls, and gender minorities was a huge part of initial contact, and has been ever since. The only difference between violence towards Indigenous women, girls, and gender minorities in the 15th century and now is… nothing. Except we have an acronym for it.  Right now, the issues surrounding MMIW are an epidemic.

The idea that violence towards racialized and Indigenous bodies has been happening in Canada for 500 years is hard to stomach. It can also be hard to visualize. Violence can be hard to talk about and hard to look at, but we need reminders and examples that these issues persist. This is where art serves one of its greatest purposes. On March 8th, the REDress project, an installation art project, is being displayed all around Brock’s campus grounds. The artist for the project, Jamie Black, uses her work to inform and provoke dialogue focusing on the crisis surrounding MMIW across Canada. Over the last few weeks, students and professors alike have been meeting at Brock to organize the day and the REDress project. Red dresses are being donated to the Aboriginal Student Services, and student teams are planning to display them. All of this work is being done in hopes of creating a “visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us” (Jamie Black).

As I went into my closet to find the one red dress I owned to add to the installation I thought about the reaction to the REDress project at Brock. Some won’t notice or care, some will see the dresses hanging and wonder what it is, maybe adding a picture of the beautiful dresses to their Snap story. Some may even see the dresses, and the posters all around Brock and just dismiss it. MMIW? Red Dress? What does it all mean. Hopefully, it is clear. The dresses, the events, the time put in by students and professors represents, and is fueled by, the thousands of Indigenous women who are targets of systemic violence in this country, and in this school. A country that is and always has been on Indigenous land. A school that sits on land next to Six Nations, the largest reservation in Canada. So, when you see the red dresses, the posters, walk by Aboriginal Student Services, or hey, walk around the Brock campus in general, think about the land you are on, and the responsibility you have to this land. Think about the violence that women have endured. Think about the violence Indigenous women and all racialized women fight against and know that we have been fighting for hundreds of years. What would it be like to remember this not just on International Women’s Day, but for every day to be centred around ending violence. A.K.A how long does violence towards racialized and Indigenous bodies need to persist until it is at the forefront of every International Women’s Day, or every day for that matter! As a certain student activist told me, when you listen and help those who need it most, everyone will benefit.

Don’t take my word for it? Below are some websites to fuel further interest.

-Jane Theriault-Norman, Contributor 

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