On a bitterly cold March morning, the empty red dresses flap in the winds. The garments are not part of a fashion exhibit, but rather the work of Métis artist Jaime Black, whose goal is to raise awareness of missing indigenous women, not only in her native Canada, but also in the United States. The dresses are just a fraction of the more than 400 that Black has collected since 2011. Through her REDdress Project, on display outside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., Black hopes to give voice to those women whose voices have been silenced through violence, discrimination, and indifference.
Ironically, indigenous people, native to their lands, are often viewed as outsiders by later settlers. One only has to look at the history of how Native Americans have been treated and continue to be treated in the U.S., to understand the challenges faced by indigenous people and particularly by indigenous women. According to the Indian Law Resource Center, violence against indigenous women, on tribal lands and in Alaska native villages, has reached unprecedented levels. The center estimates that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than one in two have experienced sexual violence. Many incidents of violence are never reported because the women are afraid to step forward.
The REDress Project will be on view through March 31 to commemorate Women’s History Month. On March 21, from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Black will participate with other Native artists, activists, and scholars in the symposium, “Safety for Our Sisters: Ending Violence Against Native Women.” For more information, go to the museum’s website.
Photos by Charlene Giannetti