Merritt Moms & Families providing beading kits for Red Dress Day.

The red dress symbolizes solidarity for murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited peoples (MMIWG2S.)

A part of the Conayt Friendship Society, Merritt Moms & Families (MM&F) got the idea to make the red dress kits from a participant during a biannual program planning meeting.

According to family development coordinator Rhonda Munro, approximately 16 kits are in circulation this year and over 100 in the last five years.

MM&F consulted elders to demonstrate traditional beading. “(The) traditional significance is that it brings out the regalia or the outfits that they’re wearing,” said Munro. “We still have some willow beads that was used before we actually got these ones, contemporaries, so they did use different kinds of seeds back in the day, same as our porcupine quills, that was part of the beads that they used.”

“(Traditional beading) takes a lot of positive energy,” said Munro. “You have to have some good energy, good thoughts, and it’s really comforting, really relaxing that I find from the participants, they seem to be calm.”

Jessica Cressey had not beaded since she was 11 years old but entered a red dress beading contest during a mother’s support group with MM&F.

“My partner reminded me that when you bead you have to be in a good way,” said Cressey. “So many thoughts and memories came through my mind while beading this little red dress, thinking of all the women in my life that I have lost and how lucky I truly am to be alive.”

“What this little red dress means to me is community,” said Cressey. “We need community and human connection because without it we have nothing. There is no way I could have gotten clean and sober without community.”

“The stigma I find often associated with the MMIWG2S is that they were drug addicts or alcoholics, or that they chose that life,” said Cressey. “For most of us I found somewhere along the line we likely experienced some form of abuse, whether it was generational, mental, physical, sexual… Everyone wants to feel wanted, needed and accepted. I know I did and it ranged in a form of a lot of high risk behavior. Riding in cars with boys, going to parties, drinking and using drugs, the list goes on. There were many times where I felt I was at risk (of) being sex trafficked and potentially at high risk of losing my life.”

Munro hopes that the beaded red dresses can raise awareness to the ongoing crisis.

“Anytime somebody comes in, they go ‘oh, look at this red dress and look at that’ and then we explained that we’re there to support the community, the families and that we recognize that this is something that is a serious that we need to come together and say we’re here for eachother,” said Munro.