Northern Lights College Students Put Spotlight on the Missing and Murdered
Red is a sacred colour for indigenous nations, believed to be one that helps a spirit find its way home.
It’s why the colour features so prominently in the national red dress campaign, each dress symbolizing a missing and murdered indigenous woman and child in Canada.
Northern Lights College students Tiffany Mearow and Bharath Krishnakumar showcased the campaign at the school last week, part of their social work practicum to open dialogue between the indigenous and international student communities.
"You need to educate people. You have to educate them on indigenous issues, indigenous culture, indigenous knowledge," Mearow said. "We have to create a safe space to have that platform, and show indigenous nations that we stand in solidarity."
Mearow is Ojibwe from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and moved to Northeast B.C. around seven years ago, first to Fort Nelson before coming to Fort St. John. She recently completed the college's pilot program for indigenous human service worker studies.
The red dress campaign is rooted in the REDress Project started by artist Jaime Black in Winnipeg, growing into a national community development campaign with awareness and advocacy and its heart. Indigenous women in Canada are statistically more likely to experience violence compared to non-indigenous women, Mearow said.
"I thought why not have this at a college campus setting, because we have a lot of international students coming who are not fully aware of this history," Mearow said. "It gives the college community that chance to see what this is."
Krishnakumar moved from India to Canada to study in 2017, knowing it was a nice place to live and get an education. He didn't know about the country's dark history with its indigenous peoples, from residential schools to a national inquiry into missing and murdered women.
"What I learned in India was that it's the best place for a better life. I never knew about all this history," he said.
Giving recognition to the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada is important, Krishnakumar said. As a social work student, Krishnakumar said learning this piece of Canadian history and about indigenous culture will help him with the issues he expects to face on the job.
"I'll have a client from a First Nation one day," Krishnakumar said. "I believe I can be of more help to those indigenous people. Now, I have the knowledge this practicum helped me a lot to gain."
Thirteen companies lent their support to Mearow and Krishnakumar's project, hanging red dresses in their place of business in the lead up to their event on March 15.
"It helps us create the dialogue, but it also shows indigenous people that these organizations are safe," Mearow said.
"It was important to say we stand in solidarity. It's not just an indigenous issue, it's a Canadian issue."