The REDress Project: Creating New Emblems

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LUNIK is the spot at Glendon to have engaging discussions, whilst basking in a warm ambience. Located in the basement of the Manor, it is where I found myself awaiting Brandon Brown-Bear on a Friday afternoon for our interview on his work as a student leader and his latest project. Indeed, I found myself regarding a painting of a red dress hanging on one of the walls of that café, and while I had to relocate the venue of my interview to the Keele campus, due to new and unplanned constraints, in retrospect I do think of that painting as a symbol of new and unwavering challenges to systemically rooted racial violence.

The REDress Project

And it is to that commitment to challenging systemic violence that my conversation later that afternoon with the Brown-Bear siblings: Brandon and Kanisha turned. This time, I found myself seated in the Skennen’kó:wa Gamig House, previously the Hart House, a building at the Keele campus donated to the Indigenous community at York and which had turned into the busy hub in which red dresses were being prepared for the REDress Project. We talked about many things, chief of which was the aforementioned project.

In its third year at York, the REDress Project was originally conceived by Jaime Black, a keynote speaker this year and according to the flyer a Métis multidisciplinary artist, as an art installation to address the circumstances surrounding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Trans and Two-Spirit Persons in Canada. It has indeed become an emblem for what is now a fundamentally powerful movement.

This year’s Project, is the culmination of almost a year of planning into a week of events by many Inidgenous groups at York, the Sexual Violence Response Office and individuals like Ruth Kolezar-Green, the Indigenous advisor to the Vice Provost. The logistics, Kanisha and Brandon, were quick to admit were indeed startling in their complexity and were only made possible by a number of grants such as the Centre for Aboriginal Students Services PEFAL grant.

In true compliance with the traditions of change, Kanisha and Brandon were only too happy to pay homage to the ones who came before, naming Aishah Rashid, current Interim Vice-President Operations at the Glendon College Student Union and Brandon Cheong, former President of the aforementioned Union. Indeed, it became apparent over the course of our conversation, that the REDress Project at York owes its roots to Glendon College, where the efforts of the Indigeous Students Association of Glendon (ISAG) has helped bring the project to its current position. It is only in its third year that we can see the project come into its own as a pan-York event even as ISAG worked in collaboration with the Osgoode Indigenous Students Association (OISA) and the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York (ASAY).

Naturally, our talk eventually veered to what happens if CUPE goes on strike. I was relieved to hear that CUPE in an act of solidarity will allow guests to proceed through picket lines if they bore some sign they were attending the REDress event, like a flyer or poster. It was at this point that I remembered that painting in Lunik and brought it up. Kanisha informed me it was a leftover piece by a Glendon student made for an earlier project. While they were a bit disappointed to admit that the ally training which was a requirement to help out in some capacities had discouraged some students, they both expressed optimism that this year’s Project could only be a great starting point for greater involvement.

With four events, two at Keele and two at Glendon, it is my great hope even as I write this article that those reading are encouraged to attend over the next one week. The Brown-Bear siblings do indeed provide the student body with great examples of how to get involved in issues of which one is passionate and while it is true that many student leaders have personally taken up the call to action, our Councils and Unions are perhaps not quite there, yet. There is still much work to be done to challenge unfair systems and while we can’t all plan events, we can certainly all attend them and show support. If nothing else, I challenge us to all leave some mark of resistance to inequity and systemic violence and oppression as lasting as that painting at Lunik. Who knows? It might spark some new challenge to systemic oppression.