Red Dress ceremony haunting reminder of missing, murdered indigenous women

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As Tonya Francis sang the Strong Woman Song in the foyer of the Nova Scotia Community College, Pictou Campus, last week her voice echoed up to the high ceilings and filled the silent room.

Francis and her daughter Felicity McGraw celebrated their culture and mourned the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada during the Pictou campus’ Red Dress ceremony that took place last week.

Linda MacDougall-Penner, who emceed the event and is co-chair of the campus’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee, started the ceremony with a few words about what Red Dress Day is and the importance of recognizing missing and murdered indigenous women. The movement began in 2010 as a way to honour and call attention to the thousands that have gone missing or have been murdered.

It was also shared that the carpentry program will be building display cabinets for each of the three dresses to have them remain as a permanent reminder that will move throughout the school.

“There’s a reason why we wear these red dresses over our heart,” said Jude Gerrard, NSCC’s Senior Advisor- Mi’kmaw and Indigenous Initiatives. He added that the issue and these women must be kept close to our heart.

Gerrard used sage to smudge the room as well as the dresses to cleanse and clear them of bad energies.

McGraw then performed a jingle dress dance, a dance that is meant for healing in the Mi’kmaq culture. Francis sang the Strong Women song in memory of the missing women.

“It means so much to me, it’s what you want for your culture,”said McGraw about the ceremony. She added that the support from her school toward her culture means a lot to her as well as spreads awareness about the issue.

“People should know that it’s very serious… People should realize how important it is,” she said.

Maxine Mann, principal of NSCC, shared that the ceremony is part of Mi’kmaq Heritage Month at the college.

“The future really belongs to you, and they really do want social change,” Mann said. “It gives an opportunity for cultural awareness.”


Felicity McGraw performs a jingle dress dance at the Red Dress ceremony at NSCC Pictou Campus last week. (Brimicombe photo)