Manitoba

100s of red dresses make Portage Avenue building a memorial to missing, murdered Indigenous women and girls

People driving or walking past the New Directions building on Portage Avenue will see a visual reminder of the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

'We're all affected,' co-ordinator Darlene Daniels says about display

New Directions is displaying red dresses in all 350 windows of its building on Portage Avenue in remembrance of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

People driving or walking past the New Directions building on Portage Avenue will see a visual reminder of the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The social service organization's office on Portage between McGee and Huntleigh streets has red dresses in all 350 of its windows, each one representing a woman or girl who didn't come home.

"And that's just a fraction of the women that are missing," said Darlene Daniels, a director at the organization who is co-ordinating the project, in an interview with Marcy Markusa, host of CBC Manitoba's morning radio show Information Radio.

Daniels conceived of the idea for the display after driving past the building one evening, she said.

"We were driving down Portage Avenue and it was in the evening and the lights were on and I went, 'Oh, this is a canvas,'" she said.

The REDress project was launched by artist Jaime Black in Winnipeg in 2010. The dresses are hung in public places as a reminder of Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing.

Some estimates suggest the total number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls over the past few decades is more than 4,000, although the recently concluded national inquiry said the true number could be impossible to determine.

When Daniels looks at a red dress on Thursday, she will think of a woman she knew named Cheryl Duck, she said.

"In my neighborhood, she was the person that I knew that I really liked, and she was murdered and her body was left on the outskirts of town," Daniels said.

Reports at the time labelled Duck a drug user and sex worker, but Daniels said that isn't true.

"She was a funny, kind person," said Daniels, who is close to the same age Duck would be if she were still alive.

Drummers moved from floor to floor, signalling to staff to put the dresses in the windows. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The dresses were donated by businesses such as Value Village and organizations like Gowns for Grads, as well as community members.

They were unveiled during a ceremony Thursday morning. Drummers moved from floor to floor, signalling to staff to put the dresses in the windows.

Daniels said it was important for her organization to take on this project, because many of their clients have lost loved ones.

"We're all affected by somebody who's murdered or missing, and so we educated ourselves," she said.

New Directions has an Indigenous council, she said, but it's not up to Indigenous staff to educate others.

"It's up to them to educate themselves and to continue to work to educate, to be aware of the issues going on," she said. "Indigenous people are part of our service, so in fact we should recognize that we, you know, we make our living off of the issues that happen in Indigenous community."

With files from Adeline Bird

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