Gabrielle Whiskeyjack.  JEFF GAYE

There will be a full day of activities in Cold Lake on Thursday to commemorate Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or who are missing.

May 5 is officially recognized as Red Dress Day in Canada in honour of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Local organizer Gabrielle Whiskeyjack says some of the actions this year will be similar to what was done in 2021, and there will be more activities and opportunities to remember.

Community members have collected a number of red dresses to be displayed as part of the commemoration, including many from personnel at RCAF 4 Wing Cold Lake. The dresses will be smudged on Thursday morning before being brought out for public display.

“At 8:00 am we’re going to start off by smudging all the red dresses. We’re going to be combining the dresses from 4 Wing and the ones that we have collected, and then we’re having a pipe ceremony in the morning for the healing process,” Whiskeyjack said.

Activities during the day will be centred on Joe Heffner Park near City Hall. There will be a stage with tributes and performances from 1:00 to 6:00 pm. Cold Lake mayor Craig Copeland will read the City of Cold Lake’s Red Dress Day proclamation at 3:00 pm.

“We’re having tributes. We’re going to be having hoop dancers and traditional singers come out,” Whiskeyjack said. “We’re also going to be having the families speaking about their loved ones who are gone or still missing. And like last year, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm we’re having the drive-by installation and we’ve added up to 15 more people.”

The drive-by displays allow motorists to see photographs and other commemorative objects as they slowly pass in their vehicles. 

Whiskeyjack says the public needs to know about the issue, to remember the women and girls, and to help their families heal.

“We just need to raise awareness,” she said. “And I feel that just like the residential school children, the media is not taking any of this seriously. The media is not doing its job in informing the public. 

“We want to honour and remember these women and girls whose lives were tragically taken or they’re still missing.” 

Whiskeyjack says the public can participate and show its support by wearing red on Thursday and coming out to the events.

“People can even walk to the photos and talk to the families that are there. A lot of the families will be there, but for some of them we’re going to provide the information about the woman or girl so that whoever is by the photo can help tell her story and say her name,” she said. 

“And then I want people to say her name when they’re driving by the photos. When they see the name, say it out loud.”

She said the Red Dress movement comes from the grass roots of the community. The colour red was chosen because according to Indigenous cultures, red is one of the few colours that spirits can see.

“We know they’re still here watching us. When we pray for them and sing for them, and the honour songs, they’re here with us and they hear us,” Whiskeyjack said. 

“And when we wear red on May 5, they’re going to see us. They’re going to see this amazing sea of red, and they’re going to feel loved and missed.”