MMIWG sewing project ties community closer together, aims to support families

A small group of volunteers has met in Edmonton each Saturday this month to fabricate red ribbon skirts for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., people meet at the public library downtown to work on the Red Ribbon Skirt Project, a movement aimed at bringing attention to the violence against Indigenous women.

“We wanted to start this as Indigenous women. If we don’t use our voices, then who else will?” said Brandi Brazeau, one of the organizers.

Brazeau, who’s Woodlands Cree from Edmonton, and another organizer Samantha Meng, who’s Plains Cree from Waterhen Lake First Nation, were inspired by Jamie Smallboy, whose REDress art installation helped spark the red dress movement.

Their goal is to make 100 skirts by May 5 — Red Dress Day, a day to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — and gift them to affected families.

Danielle Barry, one of the volunteers, has worked on three skirts so far. She said it’s nice to be able to spend some time on the weekend supporting this cause. 

Brandi Brazeau, one of the project organizers, says she’s heartened to see all the different people who have come out to support the project. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

“There’s some lack of effort when it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” Barry said. “So it’s important that when we are able to help ourselves, that we do what we can.”  

Being at the library has also allowed Brazeau and Meng to connect with lots of non-Indigenous community members and get them involved too, Meng said.

“We, as Indigenous people, know the injustices we have suffered but a lot of people don’t know how big it really is,” she said.

Brazeau agrees. She’s encouraged to see so many different people join in on the project. 

“We’ve had amazing allies come in,” she said. 

Waterhen Lake First Nation has been another key supporter of the project, Meng said, as its financial donation allowed the group to purchase the materials needed for the skirts. 

A group of volunteers work on skirts on Saturday, April 23, at the Stanley A. Milner Library in downtown Edmonton. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

All the support has left Meng and Brazeau hopeful about their mission to raise awareness and support the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

“We are still here for them and we care for them and we hear their voices,” Brazeau said. “We won’t stop helping them until we get some justice for our women.” 

It’s an urgent mission for Brazeau and Meng who, earlier this week, took part in a memorial walk for Billie Johnson — a 30-year-old mother of two, who went missing on Christmas Eve in 2020. Her remains were found in a year ago. 

During the walk, they met about a dozen people who had suffered loss, Meng said.

“It’s crazy how vast it is.” 

Next week, Meng plans to iron and package the ribbon skirts. The skirts will be blessed by an elder in a pipe ceremony before they are handed over to the families on May 5. 

Meng plans to iron and package the ribbon skirts next week. They will then be blessed by an elder in a pipe ceremony before being handed over to the families on May 5. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

The red ribbon skirts will be a key part of the day because, according to Cree tradition, red is the only colour spirits can see. 

Bear Clan Patrol has organized a walk, from Churchill Square to Beaver Hills House Park, on the morning of May 5.

Meng and Brazeau hope the spirits will see the families in red ribbon skirts and march alongside them.

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