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Red Shawl campaign highlights missing and murdered aboriginal women

First Nations peoples are participating in the Red Shawl Campaign all over Fredericton this October to raise awareness about Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women.

A recent RCMP report shows that aboriginal women are significantly over-represented in the number of murders and disappearances. As of April 2015, 174 aboriginal women as still considered missing. 111 of these cases have been deemed suspicious.

The true numbers are suspected to be even higher since the report does not take into account the cases of over three hundred non-RCMP communities.

Margaret Kress, an assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick, works with the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, which is hosting the events. She said a large portion of the campaign is about telling more people about the facts behind the missing and murdered women,

“It’s an awareness campaign to help people understand some of the systemic issues behind the violence,” Kress said. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting the federal government to acknowledge that these issues of violence and women being murdered are not just about random criminal activity; this is a systemic problem.”

Imelda Perley, Elder-in-Residence at UNB, said she’s heard from aboriginal women who are concerned about their own well-being.

“There is a student who told me she wouldn’t go out west because she was an aboriginal woman and that she might get killed,” Perley said. “If our own women are afraid of that stigma and evidence, then we as a country must appeal to the public and create awareness.”

Last week, the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre held their own red shawl event. Red shawls hung against the walls and windows of the Centre as candles flickered.

Perley explained that the red shawls represent the spiritual presence and remembrance of the missing and murdered women.

“Red means power,” said Perley. “In our language the trees are ‘the ones who stand tall’, the branches are a symbol of strength.”

The Centre isn’t the only place where the red shawl campaign is happening. Perley said that other locals are able to show their support as well.

“We’ve been asking people just to hang anything red in their window for the rest of the month of October,” Perley said. “I’ve been going to businesses I frequent—I asked the Delta to display a shawl with some information and they have.”

The event was followed by a smudging ceremony where sage was lit and the scented smoke was spread in the room. Attendees were then invited to view a documentary about missing women.

A healing walk also took place last Friday. There was a ceremony and a prayer for missing and murdered women. The last event of the red shawl campaign will be the REDress Art Instillation on Oct. 26.

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