May 5th is Red Dress Day, a day to commemorate and mourn Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2 Spirit individuals. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of Indigenous women and gender diverse individuals who are victims of violence; to help the public understand the very real injustices suffered by Indigenous Canadians, to use knowledge to motivate people to take steps to support First Nations, and to play a role in the healing process.
On Granville Island, we work hard to support Indigenous artists and business owners: we provide space for carvers such as Clarence Mills of the Haida Nation and Xwlacktun of Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Kwakwakw’wakw Nations in the carving shed at Ocean Artworks. The artwork on the wooden poles was carved by Xwlacktun with the help of some Emily Carr art students in 2000. Wickaninnish, in the Net Loft, is Indigenous owned and operated, and every artist whose work is sold there, be it a fridge magnet, earrings, sculptures, or an Indigenous licenced design – no matter how big or small, is credited and receives payment for their craft. One of the artists whose work is featured in both Wickaninnish and Beadworks, is Dena Leon.
Dena is of Stό:lō and Okanagan Nations, and is a proud member of Sts’ailes, her home community near Harrison Mills, BC. Her traditional name is Lhkwemiya, which refers to a set of mountains known in Halq’emeylem as ‘The Three Sisters’ – Lhkwemiya is the third sister, and she is the third sister in her family. Dena uses beads to create jewellery and to embroider designs on moccasins and other clothing. In honour of MMIWG2S, one of her pieces is a pair of red dress earrings, empty, to symbolize the missing sisters who should be wearing them. When asked what her thoughts are on the MMIWG2S, and what she thinks is the best way we can support First Nations, Dena said
“It's sad that we need such an organization in this day and age; it is such a complex subject that affects us in all aspects of life, but since it is necessary, I believe Education is key. We must educate the public about the reality of the abuse and racism. At the same time, offering resources to the victims and their families is important for healing and closure. A lot of families don't know what to do or what help is available to them.”
Some excellent ways to educate ourselves on the subject of MMIWG2S and First Nations of Canada are to familiarize ourselves with the history of Red Dress Day, and to read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, as well as the Calls for Justice. When we know more about the issues, we can be better allies, and we can play a better role in the healing of which First Nations of Canada have so long deserved.
Dena’s company is called Beading Heart, and her Instagram handle is Beadingheart.604.