A Photographic Tribute to Honour MMIWG

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“Red is the colour of fire and of lifeblood – it’s a colour of extremes.”

Stacey Sayer-Brabant has created a striking red dress photo series to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and to shine a light on this crucial national issue. She worked with local Regina photographer, Wayne Slinn, to document herself wearing a red dress at symbolic Regina locations — including graveyards, railway tracks and highway overpasses.

Born and raised in Balcarres, Saskatchewan, Stacey earned her degree in social work from the University of Regina. In her professional life, she has been an Indigenous Education Counsellor at Saskatchewan Polytechnic for several years. Her two beautiful daughters are ages 23 and 13. “I chose social work because I wanted to give back and help my community.”

As well as traditional jingle dress dancing at pow wows, Stacey uses “art as a means of healing and honouring the women who went before me” through her beadwork and quillwork. “Growing up, I had a foot in both worlds,” says Stacey. Her mother is Cree and grew up in Lebret; she is both a member of the Little Black Bear First Nation and a survivor of Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School. Stacey’s father is of Scottish and French Canadian descent and owned a plumbing business.

“Historically, Indigenous women have felt devalued and ignored. As an Indigenous woman, I’m at least five times more likely to be murdered and three times more likely to live in poverty compared to a non-Indigenous woman. On average, Indigenous women and girls in Canada are 12 times more likely to be violent crime victims than those who are non-Indigenous. This is so disproportionate and, unfortunately, I’m one of those statistics,” says Stacey.

The red dress photo series was inspired by the work of Winnipeg-based Métis artist, Jaime Black. Jaime’s REDress Project art installation involved collecting hundreds of red dresses through community donations. The dresses were then installed in public spaces, floating alone on hangers, as a visual reminder of MMIWG. In March 2019, the REDress Project had its first U.S. installation at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

For her own project, Stacey collaborated with Métis makeup artist JJ Vester-Penny and the result will stop viewers in their tracks. “The hand over my mouth represents a lifetime stuck in silence for most Indigenous women and girls. I believe that art is a way to give life to the truth of our experiences.”

The locations of the red dress photos are highly significant. Highway overpasses represent the Highway of Tears — a corridor of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia where many (mostly Indigenous) women have gone missing over the past 50 years. In addition, railway tracks are a common place that bodies of murdered women and girls are found.

Other sources of inspiration and strength for Stacey are her two daughters Shayla and Ryanna, the #MeToo movement and the song Read All About It by the British singer Emeli Sandé. “I heard that song and it really struck a chord with me — the idea of having the words to change a nation, but not speaking out.”

According to the government’s National Inquiry into MMIWG website, “Art is a powerful tool for commemoration. Public commemorations, through art, can help bring forward personal stories of colonial violence. Art as commemoration bears witness to injustice, recognizes the human dignity of victims and survivors, and calls institutions, systems and structures to account.”

More information on art commemorating MMIWG can be found at mmiwg-ffada.ca/artists-list.

Photos Wayne Slinn Photography