Lauren St.Clair/ The Phoenix News
Lauren St.Clair/ The Phoenix News

Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women were failed by Child and Family Service agencies and the RCMP.

Numerous red dresses can be seen hanging and fluttering throughout UBCO’s campus. However, behind their innocuous appearance lies a dark truth and a salient issue for Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Jaime Black created the REDress Project as an artistic response to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. By displaying red dresses, Black hopes to draw attention to the disproportionately high rates of violence against Indigenous women—violence which is often ignored.

Black’s project is now over seven years old, but this year it happens to coincide with two highly publicized court cases involving the deaths of Indigenous individuals Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. Despite the federal government’s promises to investigate such cases more intensely, many feel that the problem has roots that run deeper than the courts.

“Indigenous youth make up around 48 percent of children in foster care in Canada and a staggering 85 percent in Manitoba.”

In an opinions article published by CBC News, Pamela Palmater argues that the issue originates in Canada’s foster care system. Palmater likens the experiences of Indigenous youths in foster homes today to the experiences of Indigenous youths in residential schools, where children were routinely abused and neglected. She points to the fact that Indigenous youths are highly overrepresented in foster care homes—Indigenous youth make up around 48 percent of children in foster care in Canada and a staggering 85 percent in Manitoba. Much of this overrepresentation stems from the fact that First Nations communities’ child and family services are underfunded, and seeing as more and more Indigenous youths are entering into foster care, this is not a problem that will soon disappear.

The problem of Indigenous youth in foster care becomes blatantly obvious when one considers the case of Tina Fontaine, a fifteen-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation who was found dead in the Red River of Manitoba in 2014 after visiting family in Winnipeg.

Reports from the CBC state that Fontaine was frequently placed in motels—a common form of residence for many youths in foster care—and once lost access to a shelter she had been staying in for missing curfew. When Fontaine went missing, her legal guardian, Thelma Favel, was not contacted, even two weeks after her disappearance. Child and Family Services in Winnipeg failed to notify Favel even after her body was recovered from the Red River. Knowledge of her disappearance seems to have slipped past the Winnipeg RCMP as well. On August 8, a truck occupied by Fontaine was pulled over and the male driver was taken into custody for driving with a suspended license. Fontaine’s missing status did not register on the police officer’s database and Fontaine was subsequently let go. Just over a week later, she was found dead.

This year’s REDress Project aims to shed light on such cases, and encourages people to consider whether the societal and political factors that lead to the disappearance and murder of Indigenous girls can be changed.