Red Dress pin spreads MMIWG awareness at Arctic Winter Games

Pin trading is the unofficial sport of the Arctic Winter Games. This year, some pins mean more than others.

Allison Flett created the Red Dress pin to honour the women and offer healing to their families

A woman stands facing a crowd, holding numerous commemorative pins in front of her.
Pin traders at the Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alta. It's been called the 21st sport of the games. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Pin trading is the unofficial sport of the Arctic Winter Games. This year, some pins mean more than others.

Allison Flett, cultural co-chair for the 2023 Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games, designed a Red Dress pin to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

"It was amazing because it was part a collection of three we did for truth and reconciliation," she said 

The Red Dress pin was designed as a jingle dress, which Flett explains is used for healing dances at powwows. 

"So our thought was to have this represent and honour the women and hope families could have some sense of healing and this tragic epidemic can stop," she said. 

A hand holds a red pin.
The Red Dress pin was unveiled at the Arctic Winter Games on Wednesday. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)
Two women in white shirts stand on a podium with a colourful backdrop.
Allison Flett, left, and Jes Croucher, the cultural co-chairs for the 2023 Arctic Winter Games, on Saturday. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

In order for participants to earn one of the Red Dress pins, they had to take part in an educational and engagement session. 

"To earn a pin today, you sit through a teaching and then you also take part in making a piece of a square that's going to get sewn into a skirt that we're going to hang from the ceiling," Flett said. 

Flett said the educational component and the trading, where participants will explain the backstory of the pin to one another, will lead to further awareness. 

"The awareness that's going to come from this pin is going to ripple out further than Fort McMurray here today." 

The 21st sport

Pin trading is sometimes referred to as the 21st sport at the Arctic Winter Games. It involves participants bringing their own pins to the games, where they can start trading with people from around the circumpolar world.

Janet Pacey is an artist who was running a pin booth at the games. She's been involved in pin trading for over 20 years and refers to herself as a "pin head." 

Why does she think it's so popular? "Shiny," she said with a laugh.

Woman at table.
Janet Pacey refers to herself as a 'pin head.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Preston Kopp, a snowshoer for Team Alaska, said pin trading gives athletes a chance to bond.

"Pin trading gives us all a common interest," he said. 

Kopp was out trading pins on Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised by how much fun he had.

"I just kept trading stuff and trading stuff and realized this is actually really enjoyable," he said.

'I wear a lot of pride with it'

Pacey said it's not common for attendees to have to work to earn a pin, but she loves that it's happening for the Red Dress pin. 

"Like how brilliant is that?" she said. "People are learning something to get something fabulous."

The educational component was appreciated by many attendees, including cousin duo Samara Domofrio, 10, and six-year-old Aurora Grandjambe. 

"I worked really hard on the patch I was making," said Domofrio. 

Two young girls in pink.
Cousins Aurora Grandjambe, 6, and Samara Domofrio, 10, received their Red Dress pins after paticipating in an educational activity on Wednesday. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

She wrote the words "Love yourself" on her patch. 

"You should not hate anything about you, you should love everything about you," she said. 

For Grandjambe, it was a chance to express how much she missed her grandmother. 

Both also appreciated the chance to raise awareness of MMIWG.

This was something Alicia Gladue also recognized. 

A woman stands with a red handprint painted on her face.
Alicia Gladue says she'll wear her Red Dress pin with pride. (Graham Shishkov/CBC)

"It's very important to raise awareness," Gladue said. 

"They see it and they think about the missing and murdered Indigenous women." 

Gladue, who's competing in Dene Games, said she has collected many pins but she hopes to keep getting more. She's also completed a lot of trades, but the Red Dress pin will not be one of them. 

"Definitely not going to trade it," she said.

"I wear a lot of pride with it."

Interviews by Liny Lamberink and Jody Ningeocheak, written by Luke Carroll