Barrie North project sees dozens of students learn about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
Red dresses blowing freely among the crab-apple trees in front of Barrie North Collegiate are marking a sad and haunting chapter in Canadian history.
The dresses, along with posters the students created through printmaking, now displayed in the high school as well with businesses across the city, represent the many missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women lost over the past several decades in Canada.
Somewhere in the school are the posters Numair Siddiqui worked on as part of the collective.
“I created two posters, one said ‘missing’ and had the definition of missing and the other said ‘missing’,” explained the student.
Emma Lutka was among the students who approached a business to ask for permission to hang the posters. Here now hangs at Alliance Billiards.
“We just explained the reason to them and so it’s hanging up for the day, so all customers can see it,” said Lutka, who hadn’t previously had experience with this type of project.
The Red Dress Project that began with Metis artist Jamie Black was adopted by Aurelia Stec’s Grade 9 visual art collective to mark Red Dress Day on Thursday as the national day of awareness for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
Through the project, 72 students have learned that Indigenous women and girls make up 16 per cent of all female homicides in our country, 11 per cent of all missing women in our country, while only accounting for 4.3 per cent of the population of Canada.
“We designed these posters that are inside the school and we printed the red dresses and then we chose the most important or eye-widening statistics all around the school to spread awareness about this cause,” said student Caroline Sergiel.
“I think this was pretty important to do,” added student Ryan Pitts.
The approach is part of the education call to action emerging from the Truth and Reconciliation movement that came out of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement.
“It was a deliberate attempt to decolonize the curriculum,” Stec said of the teaching approach.
The Barrie North project, however, took the students’ artwork out of the confines of the school and into the city.
Through the students’ own efforts, their red dress prints are displayed throughout the community, including Pie Wood Fired Pizza Joint, Kensingtons, True Colors hair salon, Old Navy, Starbucks, Cicco’s ristorante as well as the YMCA, the police station, fire station and Royal Victoria hospital.
Stec said the Ontario curriculum now addresses Indigineous history long ignored and aims to deconstruct the colonial agendas that have positioned certain groups in positions of power. The intent, she added, is to shift from apathy to action.
Art is used as a vehicle to communicate information and social issues in the Ontario curriculum, Stec said. She and other local teachers have been able to update their lessons by participating in Metis and Indigenous studies at Queen’s University.