Red dresses were hanging in Hazelton last Friday, a bright reminder of the plight suffered by many women along Highway 16, dubbed the Highway of Tears by many.
Nicole Campbell at the Gitxsan Development Corporation got everyone in her office and at the Gitxsan Child and Family Services Society to join the campaign that is growing across Canada that sees red dresses as a way to spread more awareness on the issue.
“I think it’s a really big issue in the area that we can look into and focus just because it affects so many people in one way or another,” she said.
“The statistics don’t really lie, and I think that really hits home for me, just kind of knowing where we come from. We’ve got a lot of things set up against us with being a minority but then at the same time our numbers are so huge for missing, murdered and also in jail.
“And if you don’t know somebody directly that’s missing and murdered, you certainly know someone who knows someone who’s been affected.”
The red dress campaign caught Campbell’s eye right away.
“It gets the point across, and I love [that] it stands out and makes a point but there is kind of an eerie or solemn kind of images that come along with it,” she said.
When matriarch Betty Sampson was told by Campbell what she was trying to do, Sampson jumped right on board.
“I was excited about it mainly because … Matilda Wilson and [her daughter] Brenda [Wilson], they’re my family. Matilda is my aunty, and she had lost a daughter on the Highway of Tears. They’ve done a lot of work bringing attention to that,” said Sampson.
Ramona Wilson went missing in 1994. Her body was discovered in 1995 near Smithers airport.
Sampson believes it is important to raise awareness at times other than when tragedy strikes.
“Being a mom and a grandma … it’s so important to me to try and protect my little ones,” said Sampson.
“I would hope it prevents them from doing things like hitchhiking and putting themselves in harms way.”
Tiffany Denny works at the Gitxsan Child and Family Services Society, also based in Hazelton’s Old Town. She had one day to quickly convince staff at her office to join the cause after Campbell told her about it. They were very keen to dress for the occasion.
She hopes the young mothers she works with will keep safety in mind.
“And letting them know somebody does care. I think that influences them to make different choices and not be such risk takers,” said Denny.
She added that she worked with Brenda Wilson at the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which gave her a personal feeling that she should commit to the cause.
Denny also told a personal story that made her think of how women can be so easily put in danger. She had hitched a ride in Victoria because she was late for a university class. The driver started asking odd questions about how often she contacted her family.
“It’s just a split second decision, whether or not you accept that ride,” she said.