Red Dress Day recognized with ceremony on Prince Albert riverbank

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Wendy Mirasty became emotional as she spoke during the Red Dress Day ceremony at the riverbank in Prince Albert on Sunday.

The Sisters in Spirit monument on the riverbank in Prince Albert was the site of a ceremony on Sunday to remember local women, girls, and two-spirit individuals who had been murdered or gone missing.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) put together the event in honour of Red Dress Day, which is held every year on May 5. Shirley Woods of PAGC Health and Social Development said the event is a way to make sure residents are aware of the high number of missing and murdered individuals.

“I think it’s really important for education and awareness because it is an issue in our society and it went a long time without anybody acknowledging it,” Woods said. “As we move forward, you always need to start with awareness before you can bring about change, and really, that’s what we’re looking for is a change.”

Woods co-organized Sunday’s event with Penny Constant. Constant said the PAGC has always tried to pay tribute even before Red Dress Day became so wide-spread. She said it was important to show the lives of those who went missing or were murdered still
matter today.

“It’s going to be ongoing and I think the more awareness that we bring—not only on this day—but throughout, and create awareness for not only Indigenous women, but young women who are not accustomed to this society’s expectations,” Constant added.

May 5 marks the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S). Every year on that day, red dresses are hung on display to honour the victims, survivors, and those impacted by the ongoing crisis of genderbased and racialized violence faced by Canada’s Indigenous population.

Elder Shirley Sanderson opened and closed the ceremony with a prayer in her own language.

“I hope that these gatherings will get bigger,” Sanderson said. “Our young people need to know and to show them what we are doing here, to show them what love and care and forgiveness is.”

George Mirasty, who served as emcee led a moment of silence. Mirasty also acknowledged the family of Drew Ballantyne who were holding missing person signs throughout the event.

One of the closing speakers was the mother of 34-year-old Ballantyne, Loretta, who spoke on day 665 since Ballantyne went missing. She was joined at the podium by Drew’s son and her grandson, Daniel, where she shared the struggles and pain of her son being missing and highlighted some questions about the ongoing crisis, adding it’s not just Indigenous women.

“We have to ask ourselves, why does this keep happening? What changes need to happen?” she said. “We see a lot of homeless people out there, we see a lot of addicts out there, we see a lot of gang members out there – there needs to be a way to get them out of that.
“There needs to be a stop – we need to put a stop to it,” she continued.

“You need to look at the justice system, what’s happening in the jails… a lot of the men who go to jail have no choice but to join a gang to survive. Think about those things, think about the hard reality – I am a parent, a mother of a son who went missing because of a gang.”

Another speaker who has been directly impacted was Wendy Mirasty, the cousin of Danielle Dobersheck who was murdered in Melfort in March. Her long-term partner was charged with second-degree murder following an investigation. Mirasty opened by reading from Dobersheck’s obituary. Mirasty became visibly emotional as she described the pain she and the family have been dealing with since Danielle was taken from them.
“When she died she suffered and when they had the viewing she was unrecognizable,” Mirasty said. “Our family is still very much grieving, and I don’t think that the grief will ever go away with how she left us.

“We ask that you say a prayer and continue those ongoing prayers because we are all still grieving.”

Mirasty said she invited Doborsheck’s sister to come, but it was too difficult for her. Prince Albert Deputy Police Chief Farica Prince spoke on behalf of the Prince Albert Police Service.

“We know that Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than anyone else in this country,” she said. “The most difficult and most dangerous life to live in this country right now is an Indigenous woman, and that’s not okay. It’s time for us to hold
each other accountable and stop hurting each other.

“Yesterday we just announced our first homicide of 2024 and it broke my heart just like I am sure it broke all of yours. I just want to share a message that it’s time for us to start taking care of one another and stop hurting each other,” Prince said.

PAGC Women’s Commission acting chair Anita Parenteau spoke and noted that former chair of the Women’s Commission Shirley Henderson was missed.

“She did a lot of hard work for the families in surrounding communities and all of the bands from PAGC and all walks of life,” Parenteau said. “I just want to acknowledge her and she did so much work. I hope I can do some of that work and continue with that work she was doing.

“My message to you is to keep loving one another and keep communicating.”

Drumming group Iron Swing performed the opening Honour Song and closing round dance song. PAGC executive director Al Ducharme brought a message on behalf of PAGC and the 12 chiefs. MLA Alana Ross also spoke but noted she was speaking as a person, not as a legislature member.

Staff Sergeant Brian Kelly of the RCMP Indigenous Policing Services spoke and said that there are places where the force needs to improve to address this problem.

In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a report stating that a total of 1,181 Indigenous women and girls were killed or went missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012, based on incidents reported to all police jurisdictions across Canada.

Dr. Lalita Malholtra also spoke as a supporter of the event and said a prayer in her language before speaking from the heart. Constant, Woods and Edith Kadachuk of Health and Social Development also spoke.

The ceremony ended with everyone in attendance participating in a round dance.

Red Dress Day was first commemorated in 2010, to pay respect to the victims, and call on all levels of government to take action to address the racialized and gendered violence inflicted on Indigenous peoples