Indigenous groups across Canada held grieving ceremonies on May 5 to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), of which there have been 4,000 in the last 30 years.

For the United States and Canada, the date marks the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls and coincides with Red Dress Day — a day that started 11 years ago.

Métis artist Jaime Black was inspired by a demonstration she saw in Bogotá, Colombia, where 40 women wearing red dresses gathered in the public square. The women had all experienced people in their families going missing without any justice.

Fuelled by the demonstration, she wanted to do a public display of red dresses, to raise awareness of the violent epidemic facing Indigenous women in her home of Canada.

“One woman in a red dress climbed to the top of the statue in the middle of the square, and she called out, ‘Where are they?’ I thought, we need to bring this energy home,” Black told Vogue.

The project has since evolved into a national movement, with Red Dress Day now marked every year on May 5. People of all backgrounds are encouraged to wear red or hang red ribbons and dresses to raise awareness.

Indigenous activists often wear red to gatherings and protests and while Black’s project has played a role in red becoming the colour of MMIWG, Native Women’s Wilderness says that for various tribes, red is the only colours spirits can see.

“It is hoped that by wearing red, we can call back the missing spirits of our women and children so we can lay them to rest.”

On Red Dress Day this year, representatives of the Union of British Columbian Indian Chiefs criticised the Canadian Federal Government’s failure to deliver a national action plan two years after the National Inquiry into MMIWG concluded that violence against Indigenous women and girls amounts to genocide.

The Trudeau Government had plans to release its national action plan last year, which includes 231 recommendations, but held off citing COVID-19 reasons.

Chief executive of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Lynne Groulx, said trust in the government among Indigenous people in Canada is low and that she hopes the anniversary of the inquiry will bring about action.

“We’re now more than a year and a half in and we have not seen an action plan yet,” Groulx told CTV News.

“We’re really hoping that, at least this year, in June, on the anniversary … that we actually have something concrete coming from the government.”

By Madison Howarth