A small group of Tla-o-qui-aht community members gathered (following COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines) to host a Red Dress ceremony on May 5th, the National Day of Recognition for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). This issue impacts our community in a big way, and we come together to remember those missing from our families in particular. We also chose to acknowledge and remember the boys and men missing as well, symbolized by blue shirts beside the red dresses. We gathered at Sutton pass , the highest point on the road between the coast and Port Alberni and the boundary of Tla-o-qui-aht hahoulthee (territory).

We had invited Josie Johnson, the cultural support worker to provide a cleansing and prayers for the three dresses and three shirts that we hung on trees. Other people also offered support for the ceremony. Mariah Charleson, the Vice President of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council was a guest speaker at the ceremony. Rose Tom, an elder in her 70s provided guidance and support. Jean Antoine sang songs and prayers and offered drumming. At the ceremony we took turns speaking about losing a family member and missing loved ones and how that has impacted our lives.

Afterwards, we went to Port Alberni (the Kennedy Hill Road road was closed all day until late afternoon) and had a physically distant, masked walk down 3rd street, joining with other members of Nuu-chah-nulth communities in solidarity and support for each other as we’ve collectively lost so many loved ones. Many people in Port Alberni were very supportive of us that that day as we occupied a main street and intersection for a short moment of recognition.

We then went to the Walmart parking lot to continue supporting eachother (physically distantly). It was really powerful to share our experiences. Families that came said it felt like they’re not alone anymore. People felt like their family members were forgotten, but this brings us together to support each other in our mutual challenges. The event went really well and people were really pleased with it. The families are looking forward to doing more of this kind of thing. Our Tla-o-qui-aht group got some individual take-out food and ate it by the water in Port and talked about how we can get more organized in our advocacy for families and individuals struggling with loss. It was a really powerful day.

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