Montreal all-girls school honours missing and murdered Indigenous women with dress project

Inspired by the REDress Project, students at Trafalgar School for Girls created paper dresses to raise awareness across their school's community about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Grade 7 class at Trafalgar school inspired by ReDress project

Each student designed their dress with a specific issue in mind related to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Darian Jacobs)

When a group of Grade 7 students in Christianne Loupelle's science class at Trafalgar School for Girls started the last school year, the majority knew little about the cases of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

But today those students at the private anglophone school in Montreal are helping raise awareness among their school's community with life-size paper dresses inspired by the Mé​tis artist Jaime Black's REDress Project.

"All of our dresses have so many meanings, and different meanings. That's just showing how many problems there are with this issue and we need to raise awareness," said student Caroline Whelan.

The students were eager to help raise awareness among their school’s community by making their own life-size paper dresses inspired by the REDress Project. (Trafalgar School for Girls)

For student Dara Bordeau, it meant a lot that her classmates were on board to learn about an issue that hits close to home.

Dara Bordeau decorated her dress with images of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women that have not been solved, including her aunt Tiffany Morrison's case. (Trafalgar School for Girls)

Bordeau is from the nearby Mohawk community Kahnawake. Her aunt Tiffany Morrison went missing in 2006 and four years later, her remains were found in a wooded area at the foot of the Mercier Bridge. The homicide case remains open with the Sûreté du Québec.

"It was nice to see that everyone was very excited to do the project, to make the dress and actually include some meaning in it," she said.

Bordeau decorated her dress with a photo of her aunt, and other unsolved cases such as Maisy Marie Odjick, who went missing from Kitigan Zibi in 2008. She wanted to demonstrate the disparity between cases of missing Indigenous women and other women in Canada.

"Indigenous women, their cases are kind of pushed to the side while other cases are deemed as more important," said Bordeau.

She said it made her realize how big of a crisis it was, "that it wasn't just like a few people, but all over the country."

Bordeau's mother Melanie Morrison spoke to the girls last year about their family's experience and her role on the National Family Advisory Circle to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  

Melanie Morrison spoke to the students last year about her family's experience dealing with the disappearance and death of her sister Tiffany. (Trafalgar School for Girls)

"I think Grade 7 is a great time to introduce this subject because it affects our young women," said Morrison.

"It is a heavy subject but it is a reality that affects people across Canada. I would like to see more schools taking the initiative to have awareness projects like this. Native issues really need to be in our schools because what's happening to our people is part of our Canadian legacy."

Student-led project

The exhibition stems from a year-long student-led inquiry project through McGill University.

Limin Jao, an assistant professor in the Department of integrated Studies in Education, led the project with colleague Dawn Wiseman, 

"One of the challenging things about student-led inquiry, or one of the fears of teachers engaging in this process is the fear of the unknown," Jao said.

"What are students actually going to be interested in and can the teacher have the experiences or the knowledge on how to support the students and learning about that topic?"

That was the case for Loupelle, the science department head at Trafalgar.

Christianne Loupelle is the science department head at Trafalgar School for Girls. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"As teachers we're kind of scared about cultural appropriation," said Loupelle.

"We're scared about misrepresenting people. We're scared about not doing it justice because it's such an important thing."

She said it was as much of a learning experience for herself as it was for the students.

"I learned that this is a pretty meaningful way of doing some teaching. They're never going to forget this, and that's what education is supposed to be."

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.