British Columbia

Town of Ladysmith, Stz'minus First Nation to replace commemorative red dresses torn down by vandals

Two people were filmed tearing down red dresses meant to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls near the Oyster Bay area last weekend.

2 people filmed tearing down dresses meant to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women

Red dresses have become a powerful symbol to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country. (CHEK News)

The Stz'minus First Nation says it's working with the Town of Ladysmith to replace a number of red dresses that were torn down along the highway near Oyster Bay.

One hundred red dresses, meant to represent Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, were hung along the highway from Victoria to Port Hardy in January.

Last weekend, two people were filmed tearing the dresses down near the Oyster Bay area. Video of the incident circulated on social media.

Chief Roxanne Harris of the Stz'uminus First Nation said the incident was shocking

"I was disheartened and really sad about what they were doing because of the meaning of the red dresses to our communities," said Harris.

A video recorded near Ladysmith, B.C., on Saturday showed two men tearing down red dresses from along side the highway between Port Hardy and Victoria. (CHEK News)

A powerful symbol

Red dresses have become a symbol to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country. One of the earliest projects, which involved the hanging of red dresses in spaces, began as an art installation by Métis artist Jamie Black in 2010.

Black said her original installation was meant to serve as a visual reminder of all the women and girls who are no longer with us.

"[The dresses] have kind of a ghostly presence, so it feels as though my room is filled with people who are no longer here. And that's the really powerful thing about an empty dress," Black told CBC News at the time.

For Harris, whose aunt was murdered, the dress campaign is deeply personal.

"For me, one of those dresses isn't just a dress to me. It symbolizes her and her death. For us, it's just part of our healing," she said.

Dresses to be replaced on Saturday

Harris has reached out to Mayor Aaron Stone of Ladysmith.

The First Nation and the municipality will be replacing the dresses together on Saturday morning. Red dresses are being collected at the town hall, and the Ladysmith fire department has been enlisted to hang the dresses at a higher level so they will remain undisturbed.

"We're stronger together and if our communities could be connected rather than separated by these issues, we're better off for it," said Harris. 

A national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls released a report in 2019.

The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.

The report included many recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls. 

With files from CHEK News, All Points West