The Red Dress Display recognizes Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

On May 5th 2023, a display of red dresses lined the UW-Eau Claire campus.

Red dresses were hung from trees along the UW-Eau Claire Campus Mall. ©Anna Smith

Anna Smith, Journalist

This spring, the Intertribal Student Council (ITSC) collected red dresses for their third annual Red Dress Display on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Campus. This event was held on Friday, May 5, to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) across the United States and Canada.

Charlie Kernan, a UW-Eau Claire American-Indian studies alumni, worked with Multicultural Student Services as their Native American Student Coordinator and ITSC staff adviser. They explained the impact of the display and how students can get involved on campus.

“The Red Dress Display was created to spread awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” Kernan said. “This event is meant to push this devastating epidemic into the public eye and spread knowledge and support for victims and their families.”

Kernan emphasized the importance the community has on the drive and the importance of spreading the message of the meaning behind the Red Dress Display.

“I want campus and community to become aware of just how prevalent these tragedies are in Indigenous communities,” Kernan said. “I hope people will see the impact of MMIW and start up conversations and hopefully be inspired to continue to spread awareness year-round.”

The Red Dress drive displays dresses for Missing and Endangered Indigenous Women.
(©Anna Smith)

Kernan also highlighted that ITSC would be moving in a different direction for their display compared to previous years. In this year’s display, they highlighted unsolved cases, but also portraits and information about Indigenous women’s cases that are still open.

Maddie Blong, a second-year student and vice president of ITSC, shared her thoughts on this year’s display and the impact the display could have on UW-Eau Claire students.

“I hope that students and community members are mindful of the displays and understand those who have come there to grieve, and remember their loved ones,” Blong said. “On May 5, our campus will become a sacred space, and we ask that everyone treats the displays and one another with respect.”

Blong acknowledged that the topic of MMIW can also be sensitive. Therefore, she offered on-campus counseling resources for those seeking additional support after visiting the Red Dress Display.

“We understand that this topic can bring heavy hearts to a lot of people, and we want everyone to know that there are places on campus to seek support,” Blong said. “CASA and counseling services are great places to go if you find yourself feeling unwell.”

The red dresses used in the display were donated to the Inter-Tribal Learning Center at UW-Eau Claire. (©Anna Smith)

For future Red Dress Displays, donation drop-off locations are located in the Inter-Tribal Learning Center (Hibbard, 150) and the Multicultural Student Services Center (Centennial, 1106.) Kernan encouraged the community to donate to Indigenous activist organizations that work hard to make sure Indigenous women and girls are not forgotten.

“I want folks to see a lost mother, sibling, daughter or friend in every unworn dress,” Kernan said. “I want them to spread awareness into their own communities to prevent more devastating losses in the future.”

Smith can be reached at [email protected].