On Wednesday, May 5, a group of almost 50 people met in the small park alongside the Willamette river to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women of our nation. From tree branches, dresses, scarves, shirts and jackets of all shades of red swayed lightly in the early evening breeze.
“We are here to support our stolen sisters,” co-organizer Marta Clifford said to the large group huddled around her. The poets standing beside her joined in, “until they are home, until they are all home.”
May 5 is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness Day, and to commemorate the illioo Native Theatre and UO’s Indigenous Womxn’s Wellness Group hosted a poetry event that infused aspects from the REDress Project.
In 2010, Jamie Black created a public art installation of red dresses called the REDress project. The empty garments made of shades of ruby, scarlet and cherry represent the thousands of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people who do not have a voice.
The event took place in Springfield and was one of the hundreds of similar events taking place throughout the nation, raising awareness for the estimated 5,712 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the United States who have been documented by the Department of Justice since the twentieth century.
According to a U.S. National Institute of Justice report, four out of five Indigenous women have experienced some violence in their lives. They are also ten times more likely to be murdered than any other racial or gender group.
“I will speak because I am not murdered. I am not missing,” recited Violet Johnson, an organizer from the Indigenous Womxn’s Wellness Group of the UO. “I am one part of a thread of voices.”
The ten poets recited prose from the poem “Love Lessons in a Time of Settler Colonialism” by Tanya Winder, a Native poet — one of the eleven poems read throughout the evening. The poets either bounced off one another individually reading lines or joined as a group to deliver emotional and impactful verses.
After finishing one poem, they led the audience members, donning red shirts, pants and masks, to the next tree. The only sounds came from the running water of the Willamette in the distance and grass blades dancing between the moving sneakers and sandals.
The group closed the event by circling back to Winder’s poem and the line, “until the light through our bodies translates to rainbows shining over our land. Until we’re home, until we all are home.” The event closed out with a traditional drum rendition of “Remember Me” by Fawn Wood.