July 22, 2019

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Dresses for the missing, murdered

Winnipeg window display seeks to bring MMIWG conversation to fore

A jarring window display in downtown Winnipeg aims to turn heads, and open hearts and minds.

Starting Thursday, 350 red dresses will hang in the windows inside and outside the offices at New Directions (717 Portage Ave.).

"They represent a woman who doesn't come home," said Darlene Daniels, a senior director at the community services organization in charge of culture, education and training. The artist, who is Anishinaabe, came up with the idea while driving past the building one night.

"I looked at those windows and thought: we could tell a story."

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A jarring window display in downtown Winnipeg aims to turn heads, and open hearts and minds.

Starting Thursday, 350 red dresses will hang in the windows inside and outside the offices at New Directions (717 Portage Ave.).

"They represent a woman who doesn't come home," said Darlene Daniels, a senior director at the community services organization in charge of culture, education and training. The artist, who is Anishinaabe, came up with the idea while driving past the building one night.

"I looked at those windows and thought: we could tell a story."

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"If you have an area of expertise, put it to use," says New Directions' Darlene Daniels.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS "If you have an area of expertise, put it to use," says New Directions' Darlene Daniels.

The red dresses tell passersby the stories of untold missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, said Daniels. "I don't think there's one Indigenous family not affected by it."

Including her own.

Daniels grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood in Winnipeg, where the only other Indigenous children were in foster care. One of them, a friend, Cheryl Duck, was found dead in December 1987, face-down in a field near the outskirts of Winnipeg.

The horrifying news of Duck's homicide was made worse when it was reported she led a risky lifestyle, with the insinuation she had it coming to her.

"They said she was a prostitute and a drug user — she was not," said Daniels, who was 15 at the time. "I was outraged. I would tell everybody I know that it wasn't true."

It was hard for the slain teen's friend to hear, and even harder for family, Daniels recalled.

"I saw her brother and he was so upset." He wanted to know why his dead sister was being lied about, Daniels said. She didn't work in the sex trade or use drugs: "Why did they say that?"

It was devastating but eye-opening for Daniels, who'd already experienced forms of racism. "I knew there were different rules for us, even then. The racism was terrible."

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sharon Olsen, support facilitator for the RAP program, sorts some of the 350 red dresses.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sharon Olsen, support facilitator for the RAP program, sorts some of the 350 red dresses.

Daniels hopes the red dresses in New Directions windows (on display through Friday's National Indigenous Peoples Day and the weekend) spur people to act on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

"Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem — it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us," Justice Murray Sinclair said in delivering the TRC's final report four years ago. New Directions, which is Manitoba's largest and oldest social service agency, took that to heart.

"How can we be the best ally possible?" asked Daniels, whose own red jingle dress is on display. She runs the non-Indigenous organization's Opikihiwawin program that's helped Indigenous people raised in non-Indigenous homes discover their roots and learn the Anishinaabe language.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Darlene Daniels, New Directions' director of culture, education and training.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Darlene Daniels, New Directions' director of culture, education and training.

The red dresses remind Daniels of Cheryl Duck and the thousands of other friends, mothers and daughters who never came home. Douglas said allies are crucial in helping victims' families heal and in stopping more women and girls from going missing and being murdered.

"Keep supporting the families, do a walk with the Bear Clan, help Drag the Red when they do fundraisers," she said. "If you have an area of expertise, put it to use."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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