Representatives of Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith showed solidarity against racism on Saturday (April 17) when the group of leaders met to hang red dresses from trees near Coronation Square Mall in Ladysmith.
Last week, two men were filmed removing dresses from trees in the area with a large branch, then discarding them in the forest.
After the video was posted to social media, their actions were quickly condemned by both Stz’uminus and Ladysmith. Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris reached out to Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone and the two made plans for a small ceremony to replace the removed dresses.
Stz’uminus Elder, George Harris opened the ceremony with a song, praying for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — praying for healing and justice.
Members of the Ladysmith community took it upon themselves to organize their own efforts. Before the ceremony took place, individuals had already hung new dresses in the trees alongside the Island Highway. Some have placed red dresses on their homes and in their yards.
Several community members have also donated dresses to Ladysmith City Hall. Stz’uminus and the Town of Ladysmith plan to hang the dresses from Coronation Square to the northern edge of Oyster Bay, symbolically connecting the two communities together.
“I feel so supported and loved by the community,” Harris said. “We have a ceremony in our community where we blanket and this feels like that — it feels like we’re getting blanketed with love and support from the whole community.”
Dresses will be placed in front of Ladysmith City Hall and at Bob Stewart Park, which is the northern entrance to Ladysmith.
“Throughout the next several days we’ll see it grow and grow,” Stone said. “Today we all send a message together from our collective communities that we are in solidarity together.”
Stz’uminus councillor, Tim Harris said that the ceremony was a ‘teachable moment’.
“We don’t have to be mad. We have to get out there and do our part — do the work that really needs to be done. We need education. The boys that took the dresses down probably had no clue what was going on or what they represented, so it’s a real teachable moment,” he said.
The red dresses are a symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The dresses will remain up until at least a week after May 5.