REDress Project Artwork Gifted to the District by Rotary Club of Sooke

Reminds Us of Our Truth and Reconciliation Efforts and Honours Sooke’s Commitment as a Compassionate City

Friday, November 25, 2022 – Today, a new art installation gifted to the District from the Rotary Club of Sooke, was unveiled at Sooke Municipal Hall.

Red dresses, whether hung on a tree along the roads, as intricately beaded art pieces or sculptures such as this metalwork piece, are intended to bring awareness to the tragic number of Indigenous Women and Girls who disappear or are murdered, at a rate far beyond the non-native population.

A local connection

In 2021, Pyper Phillips, a Metis student at Edward Milne Community School, crafted a remarkable metalwork dress from a template designed by Vancouver Island First Nations artist, Karver Everson, to raise awareness of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.

After consultation with the T’Sou-ke Nation to select a preferred location, the art is now displayed at Sooke Municipal Hall and is one of two installations in Sooke. The first sculpture was installed at Edward Milne Community School.

Quote – Mayor Maja Tait

“Acknowledging such truths is hard. This installation is another reminder of the calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and provides an opportunity to further reflect on Sooke as a Compassionate City.

“In 2019, Sooke declared itself a Compassionate City. This declaration is an ongoing commitment to caring for everyone in our community. When people see the red dress, I hope they take a moment to reflect on the hard truths while also being inspired, like Pyper Phillips and the Rotary Club of Sooke, to take meaningful action and prevent further loss and harm.”

Jaime Black started the REDress Project as an installation art project to bring attention to murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. When persons see an installation, Black shares “(they) are confronted with both the violence people are experiencing and also the presence and power of Indigenous women…It offers an opportunity for all groups of people to come together to have a dialogue and a conversation, and also for women and families in communities to have a space for their voices to be heard and their stories to be told.”

Mayoral Address from the Unveiling

Thank you all for being here today, as we gather on the territories of the T’Sou-ke and Sc’ianew Nations.

We gather today to remember the missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Such is an epidemic of violence against indigenous women across the island, BC Canada, through the US and Latin America, and all around the world.

Over the past decade, we have seen mass movements, marches, the creation and building of databases, local events, and informational sessions.

What will be unveiled today is a creative expression that honours the work that has been done by others.

MMIW has been described as a national crisis and a Canadian genocide.

Such has led to the national public inquiry under Prime Minister Trudeau in 2016.

The inquiry’s backgrounder showed us that between 1980 and 2021, indigenous women and girls represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada while constituting only 4% of the female population. The inquiry’s findings have been public since June 2, 2019.

A 2014 RCMP report titled ‘Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National operational overview” found more than 1,000 indigenous women murdered over a span of 30 years. From 2001 to 2015, the homicide rate for indigenous women in Canada was almost six times as high as the homicide rate for other woman.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has documented 562 cases since 1960, with 39% of lives lost after 2000. Advocacy groups feel the number is higher though and British Columbia has the highest number in Canada.

Notable cases have included 19 women killed in the “Highway of Tears’ and some 49 women murdered by serial killer Pickton.

Advocates feel the number is higher because over the last half-century investigations were not conducted or done poorly due to allegations of police bias. Some feel Pickton when on and on because the disappearances were not taken seriously.

Recently, a Provincial report released in 2020 entitled ‘in Plain site’ provided by the Honourable Mary Ellen Turpel – Lafond highlights what continues to plague the health system to this day.

On November 15, 2022, BC Indian chiefs released the study ‘They sigh or give you the look, Discrimination and Status Card users’. Such revealed that 100% of participants in the survey have experienced racism and continue to in nearly every interaction they have.

The study came about due to the horrific experience Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter experienced while he tried to open a bank account for his granddaughter. His granddaughter was handcuffed – at age 12.

Our very own OCP review and draft, is a response to our residents’ views on gender bias, discrimination and racism that prevail within our own community. The draft itself triggered an emotional response from our community, and also highlighted the racist behaviours of ‘well-intended, good-natured bystanders’ in their reactions;

The rise of unmarked graves, rallies, marches, and the establishment of orange shirt day are all recent events. So, while events like the Pickton trials, Highway of Tears may seem far away, as Chief Planes often says, ‘we are all connected’ – by gender and family connections. These are our mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins and friends.

Our indigenous communities have sung songs and brought forward oral teachings that express the ‘truth’ as it was known. Our western world relied on fact, and now we are finally together with the expressions of truth and finding a way forward to reconcile this.

The REDress Project, initiated by Jaime Black in 2019, has been a dedication and remembrance of the missing and murdered indigenous women.

The ‘empty dress’ is to capture those lost.

I was advised once that the colour red was the only colour spirits see. Canadian Jaime Black once stated, ‘So (red) is really a calling back of the spirits of these women and allowing them a chance to be among us and have their voices heard through their family members and community’. Certainly, around Sooke, you have seen residents participating in this way.  Around the globe, red is sacred to many.

The Lil’ Dress project on Vancouver Island evolved from a kitchen table from indigenous communities on how the local community can build awareness within the region.

The logo for the Comox-based group was designed by First Nations artist Karver Everson;

Then locally, here in Sooke at EMCS a class metalworking project turned into an opportunity to raise awareness. Pyper Phillips a 16-year-old EMCS Métis student created the sculpture, using the Everson’s design as a template. This is both a testament to her skill using a plasma cutter, a device to cut through metal and a contribution to the dialogue on this issue.

Initially, two were made, 110 cm tall by 66 cm wide, and 3 mm thick. Powder-coated for colour and a durable finish. One is now at EMCS to serve as a learning tool, the second was donated back to the Lil’Dress project as a thank-you.

The Red Dress that will be unveiled today is a gift from our local Sooke Rotary Club. I wish to acknowledge former Sooke School District Trustee and active Rotarian, Margot Swinburnson, for spearheading this initiative.

We connected and brought it through the T’Sou-ke and Sooke MOU working group to determine this location to be the best fit for the installation.  Many thanks to our parks department for their work with the installation.

Systematic racism prevails across the country, in BC and in Sooke.

I hope this installation will be a reminder of how we are shifting the narrative; something to be accountable for much like the T’Sou-ke flag that we have the privilege of flying.

The Red Dress project, like others, is meant to do a few things:

  1. A reminder to be accountable to the truth that is continually being revealed. We are aware of this in the oral history of the “T-Sou-ke’. Reflect on the song ‘the dog catcher’ that has been sung to us as a Council as well as other community events for generations. What do you think the origins of the song represent? It’s local history and has been sung for generations.
  2. It is not up to the T’Sou-ke, Sc’ianew – nor any other indigenous community – elders, and other victims of abuse and discrimination to ‘explain or teach us’. Rather it is up to all of us, as individuals and as a collective –  to listen. To challenge what we know. To put time aside for cultural sensitivity training, visit our local library, fill in the blanks in your previous history lessons. Get to know your country and your community once more with the current knowledge systems available.
  3. When you as a bystander witness an event and then console the victim, you are enabling system racism. What we all need to do is call out the perpetrator. Challenge what they say in that moment: ‘break the pattern’ and such empowers the victim.
  4. Be brave. Have courage. The end result is a free, safe and just world where all children will realize their potential.

Our work together is worth it.

Thank you all for being here and taking part in this work today.

Learn more:

L to R: Councillor Jeff Bateman, Rotarian Margot Swinburnson, Councillor Al Beddows, Mayor Maja Tait, Rotarian John Topolniski, Director of Finance Raechel Gray, Rotarian Roger Temple
L to R: Councillor Jeff Bateman, Rotarian Margot Swinburnson, Councillor Al Beddows, Mayor Maja Tait, Rotarian John Topolniski, Director of Finance Raechel Gray, Rotarian Roger Temple