Central Oregon Coast NOW is joining My Sisters’ Place staff Sunday to hang red dresses at 10 am at City Hall. The installation of the REDress Project is part of a national effort to draw attention to thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women each year. May is the month that recognizes this tragedy.
My Sisters’ Place provides services and shelter to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and its staff has been busy organizing the event. Installations of empty red dresses began appearing as early as 2010, immediately garnering national attention. The artist Jaime Black, from Winnipeg, Manitoba and member of the Métis Tribe—created the REDress Project as an expression of her grief and her feeling of connectedness to fellow indigenous women. She chose red, a powerful and historical color for Indigenous persons, to represent “the woman of the red nation, and life blood; the woman’s ability to give life.”
In a related event, Portland Activist and Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) USA founder Deborah Maytubee Denton-Shipman will be speaking at the May 28 NOW meeting at 6 pm at the Newport Library to talk about her work. Her group assists
MMIW families, tries to locate these women, and works with law enforcement on behalf of the families. Native women are disproportionately affected by violence. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice estimated that 84 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime compared to 71 percent of non- Hispanic white women.
The red dresses were recently hung at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC—35 of them—in different shapes, sizes and shades. There is no definitive tally due to the tangled nature of jurisprudence in and around Indian Country. The public is largely unaware and resources to more fully document the fates of these women is lacking.
The local NOW group is also planning a May 30 potluck and informal meeting at the Tribal Community Bldg in Siletz to build relationships and more awareness, said NOW president Sheila Swinford.