Symbolic red dresses removed from alongside Island highway without permission

A Campbell River woman has vowed to replace symbolic red dresses hung by the Island Highway near Ladysmith, after a video posted on social media showed two males taking them down.

The dresses have become a symbol of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada and the United States.

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Stephanie Rivers Elickus has been a major force in hanging the dresses around the Island, travelling from Port Hardy to Victoria since January to hang red dresses and encourage community involvement in the project.

“I hang dresses every year and leave mine up 365 days a year.”

She said she has experienced three personal losses related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. “This is a movement that I’m very passionate about.”

So she was upset to hear the dresses hanging in trees near Ladysmith had been tampered with, and said she would replace them.

“This is something that’s so dear to me, and it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It brought me to tears. I just couldn’t believe it.”

The red dresses, which are intended to raise awareness, have deep meaning, she said.

“It’s to call spirits home in our culture, to call missing women home.”

She can’t imagine why anyone would take the dresses down, noting any dresses hung on private property are there with permission. “Are they offended by it?

“It’s really disturbing.”

Rivers Elickus said she started a Facebook page about the red dress project and picked up more than 1,000 followers in a week.

“Messages and letters and phone calls pouring in.”

She said she is looking forward to hanging dresses May 5 at the legislature to mark Red Dress Day.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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