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Marchers fill the streets of downtown Edmonton on Red Dress Day

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(ANNews) About 1,000 people marched through downtown Edmonton to mark Red Dress Day on May 5.

Red Dress Day is held annually on May 5, which is National Awareness Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples. While the Red Dress is often recognized as a symbol to commemorate and honor missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Red Dress Day has grown to include missing and murdered men, boys and Two-Spirit people. Many of the marchers who stretched for blocks along Jasper Avenue wore red, believed to be the only color spirits can see. Some also wore face masks with a red handprint, symbolizing Canada having blood on the hands of all missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous peoples.

Judith Gale has been one of the main organizers of Red Dress Day in Edmonton, and has been since the national event began in the city in 2018. This year marks the fourth Red Dress Day in Edmonton, the 2020 event had to be skipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The purpose of the event, says Gale, is to raise awareness and build community, because we’re all going through the same experience. We are able to share and realize that we were not alone. Together we share the grief and we share the day together commemorating our loved ones.

Gale shares this grief. She had a 16-year-old sister who was murdered in Montreal in the early 1980s. She lay in the morgue as Jane Doe for three months before we found her, Gale says, her voice breaking with emotion . This is why I always make this day, for my sister as well as for all the other family members who have experienced a great loss.

Local group Chubby Cree sang and drummed from the back of a truck along the march route. The Crazy Indians Brotherhood provided marshals for the march. Members of the Edmonton Police Department marched with us, and a few members came with red shirts, Gale adds.

The end point of the march was Amiskwaskahegan Beaver Hills House Park, where red dresses hung everywhere. Food baskets, an open cupboard, meals, tea and bannock were available through the events of many community partners, including the John Humphrey Center for Peace and Human Rights, Tee Pee Treats, Food Not Bombs, the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Action Movement, the Edmonton Red Skirt Project, Unifor (a union that provided the masks) and other organizations. The owner of local salon Phase Hair + Care was even there to treat attendees to haircuts and touch-ups.

Family members had the chance to share stories of missing and murdered loved ones. In fact, the microphone was only accessible to those directly affected by the issue of missing, murdered and exploited indigenous peoples. The politicians reached out to speak, but Gale turned them down. This isn’t an event about talking heads, it’s about sharing the stories of our loved ones, and honoring and remembering them for the day, in a good way.

Gale is also the leader of Bear Clan Beaver Hills House, a self-help group that Gale says serves brothers and sisters living on the streets in Edmonton and whose members help out at the event, which she says takes growing every year.

I have always tried to make the event a subject of sharing and mutual aid. It’s our Remembrance Day; our commemoration of missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous peoples,” says Gale.

It’s all about the families, the people who haven’t gotten justice. Saying the names aloud frees the mind and is also cathartic to living family members and the community as a whole.

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