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Strathcona upstanders bring awareness to MMIWG2S+

May 28, 2024 News Story
WSD - Strathcona - Red Dress

Strathcona School students created a poem, book, song, and music video to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.

Grades 5 and 6 Strathcona students presented their project, The Last Red Dress, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as part of the museum’s annual Be an Upstander event. According to CMHR’s website, Be an Upstander aims to “empower students to recognize injustice and use their strengths to create change.”

Strathcona teacher Peter Grozdanovic said the inquiry-based project started a year ago with the goal of “engaging students in a meaningful issue.”

“My aim was to provide a purpose for them to research, write, and advocate for human rights,” Grozdanovic said. “I wanted them to understand that their collective voices could bring about change and that they could become advocates for the voiceless.”

Strathcona students worked in teams to contribute to every part of the project, from researching the MMIWG2S+ issue and conducting interviews with community members, to creating a piece of poetry and developing visual art for the book. 

The poem served as the basis for the original musical composition and corresponding music video. In addition to writing and performing the song, students worked as their own film crew, operating cameras, managing lighting, and taking on directorial roles. 

“In our film, we tell the story from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl who is one of the missing,” said Kyrstyn, a Grade 6 student.

“She speaks from the spirit world, reflecting on her life and urging people to take notice of the tragedy faced by MMIWG2S+. She wants to ensure that she is the last red dress.”

Red dresses became a symbol for MMIWG2S+ when Métis artist Jamie Black began the REDress Project in 2010.

The students responsible for the poetry portion of The Last Red Dress project said the words came easier than expected.

“We thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t, because the more we worked together and the more we talked, the more our ideas came together,” stated the poetry team. “We took ideas from our own lives and experiences and combined them to create one person, the red dress girl. She is a person made up of many people. She is part of each of us and we are each a part of her.”

Also contributing to the student-led project were Strathcona music teacher Donna Greaves, Emerson School teacher Dan Szymanski, Technical Vocational High School music teacher Jerry Semchyshyn, WSD STEAM support teacher Adam Charbonneau, R.B. Russell Vocational High School teacher Mike Johnston and local video editor and motion graphics designer Ashlyn Erickson.

The Last Red Dress project was also supported by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

“In Canada, statistics show that Indigenous women and girls are four times more likely to experience violence than other women. This needs to end,” said Marco, a Grade 6 student. 

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