Sunday, September 23, 2018

Spirits Can See Red

Residential School Escape
Coming of Age in the Wilderness


  • Christine Cayedeto, Aged 9, disappeared from her front yard in 1986
  • Tiffany Maureen Skye, 19, disappeared August 8, 2011; she was Bloodvein First Nation;
  • Annie Pootoogook, 46, an renown artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, was found dead in the Ottawa River, September 19, 2016 
  • Rose-Anne Blackned, 24, mother of two, found frozen in the Val D'Or, Quebec, on November 16, 1991
  • Olivia Lone Bear, mother of five, her body discovered nine months later, June 25, 2018

Besides the fact that they are women, what else do they have in common? The years of their deaths/disappearances are different, as are their ages.

All these women are indigenous, some from the US, others from Canada. According to the U.S. Justice Department, indigenous women face murder rates--on some reservations--as much as 10X above the national average.

This shameful statistic is caused by a long standing inequity in the law. If a native woman is assaulted by a non-native person on tribal land, they will not be prosecuted, because the tribal police may not arrest or prosecute a non-native person. This has, very simply, created open season on native women. Rates of homicide and disappearance of native women and girls, apparently for the sex trade, appear to be ever-growing. Spikes of violence are now occurring in the oil rush fields of the U.S. and Canada where transient workers come and go.  

If an indigenous person is accused of killing a non-native person on the reservation, he may be prosecuted twice--by the tribal authorities and by whatever state in which the crime was committed. You may say that the fact that this remains law here in the 21st Century, is nothing more or less than institutionalized racism. However, solutions remain difficult, for the problems are many and complicated. 

Tribal police are hesitant to give state police any assistance or make it any easier for non-native law enforcement officers to come onto their land. Add to this that the tribal police are generally underfunded and that the territories which they cover are enormous. Next comes the poverty, substance abuse, family disruption (among these, the residential school system) and lack of work on the reservations, which exacerbates the tragic history of the people who live there. Racial violence is now embedded in indigenous bodies, descendants of brutalized survivors. 

Violence is an often-unacknowledged part of our European American past. Most of our people fled injustice, starvation, and sectarian violence in their lands of origin. This ancestral violence, likewise planted in our bodies (and, it now appears, in our very DNA) has been, in turn, visited upon the original inhabitants of North America.

There's 500 hundred years of bad blood between immigrants and indigenous people.  It's unsurprising that European Americans and 1st Nations' meet and sometimes clash in the border towns where  indigenous people must to come in order to find work or get supplies. Some of these cities/towns appear to have resident gangs waiting to abduct young women for the sex trade.

In an effort to raise awareness of the issue, several art projects have been created. One is The Red Dress Project. This began in Canada and is a public art commemoration of the Aboriginal women known to be missing or murdered. Canadian Jaime Black (Metis) began the project in 2000. 

Jaime Black explains: "Red is the only color spirits can see. So (red) is really a calling back of the spirits of these women, allowing them a chance to be among us and have their voices heard through their family members and community." 

A few of the  organizations trying to raise awareness of these Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women using both civic action and art may be found @

Native women’s Association of Canada

This group is designed to raise awareness about the Missing/Murdered Indigenous Women crisis in Canada—violence against women, girls and two-spirit persons.

Sisters in Spirit vigils continue to be held across Canada every year on the 4th of October.

The home site of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women:


Tylena Walkalong, 14 years old, last seen in Billings Montana, August, 2018

Talelei Oldcrane, 12, disappeared June 17, 2018, Billings, Montana

Valencia and Valentina Haswood, aged 16 and 14, last seen in Sawmill, AZ 08/18

Khadijah Britton, 24, abducted at gunpoint by an ex-boyfriend, Mendocino, CA, 02/07/18...

European North American women like myself have made limited progress towards equality under the law, but aboriginal women and women of color have been left behind.  We must remember the names of these lost sisters and hope that their spirits, though battered, will find their way home when they see the red dress. 

We must "Pray for the dead, and fight like Hell for the Living."*

~~Juliet Waldron

See All My Historical Novels @

* Mother Jones

Another view of the Red Dress Movement in this powerful article:


  1. We've driven the Highway of Tears (Highway 16 in northern British Columbia) many times. Last time through we stopped at a rest area just west of Prince George and posted there were pictures of missing women. So sad and so shocking.