If all things were equal, the unexplained disappearance of hundreds of Canadians would need no added emphasis to attract attention.
Yet all things are far from equal in Canada. Indigenous women are five times more likely to die violently. The REDdress Project — an art installation that calls attention to more than 600 missing or murdered aboriginal women — has arrived in Kamloops to drive home that statistic.
Exactly a year ago tonight, 200 people gathered on Angel Street in Riverside Park for a candlelight vigil on Oct. 4, a national day of remembrance. Shelley Johnson, a TRU social work professor, recalls being surprised by the turnout but not by the fact that most of those who attended were Aboriginal.
"Within the Kamloops Indian Band there are many band members who come from families that have lost women," Johnson said.
Then there are the larger off-reserve Aboriginal and Métis populations in Kamloops with all the ties that come through large extended families. While these communities were clearly moved, Johnson saw a glaring disconnect with society as a whole.
"How do we raise education and awareness about it even more?" she wondered. "How do we get people to start having conversations about missing women?"
She didn't know at the time, but Jaime Black, a Winnipeg Métis artist, had an answer: An art project almost impossible to miss. Black's REDress Project, comprised of multiple installations of more than 100 donated red dresses, debuted at the University of Winnipeg earlier this year.
"It is a very visible reminder that we don't know where so many in the community are. We don't know if they're alive or injured or even dead. We just know that for many of our families, there has never been closure."
Black accepted her invitation to bring it to B.C. and the project snowballed with support from the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society and other TRU faculty.
"Kamloops is actually only the second place it's been shown," Johnson said.
With 70 crimson-red dresses fluttering in the wind around the TRU campus, at Kamloops Art Gallery, the Old Courthouse Cultural Centre and Chief Louis Centre, events to recognize the issue are set to begin. They include:
* Today through Friday: Daily tours of the REDdress installations at TRU at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
* Tonight: A community dinner at Sk'lep School at 5:30 p.m., followed by a candlelight vigil. All are welcome.
* Wednesday, Oct. 5, 4:30 p.m.: A film screening of Building a Highway of Hope and talk with director Jessica Yee at TRU House 5.
* Thursday, Oct. 6, 6:30 p.m.: Screening of Finding Dawn and guest panel at TRU Irving Barber Centre.
* Friday, Oct. 7, noon: Artist talk by Jaime Black at TRU Art Gallery.
Johnson's interest extends far beyond her academic role. A social worker for 25 years, she saw the toll rise first hand. Then, last summer, the relative of a Prince George friend vanished. Her body was later found mutilated.
"I can't believe how many times, as social workers, we would lose women to the street. Sometimes they come back, sometimes not. Aboriginal women in this country are unsafe. Aboriginal children are not safe. There are too many kids in foster homes and lots of violence. People are still too afraid to speak about it."
She hopes lots of people, and not just Aboriginal people, attend tonight's dinner.