By Chris Marchand
A class project to explore the movement to find justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada has helped DHS students realize a deeper cultural connection and emerge stronger.
Kirston Carpenter, Destiny Derouin and Shaylyn Lands — students in Mr. Wilkinson’s Social Justice and Equity class — say that they often stepped out of their comfort zones in their efforts to raise awareness throughout the school for the issues surrounding MMIW.
A striking row of red dresses is suspended across the entrance hall of the Dryden High School, emblematic of artist Jaime Black’s REDress Project and its association with the MMIW cause.
“We hoped it would have an effect on people — it’s symbolic of our lost sisters,” said Kirston Carpenter.
All around the school, posters tell the story of regional women and girls, some no older than the students themselves, like Azraya Ackabee Kokopenace (14) and Delaine Copenace (16), whose lives were lost in recent years.
On Friday, hundreds of students gathered in the gym for a round dance with drummers and singers and a feast to cap off a week of solemn remembrance and contemplation.
For some, like Carpenter, the cause is painfully personal as she describes the gnawing dread of not knowing whether a close family member is safe when they’re ‘off the charts’.
“It really hits home for me,” said Carpenter.
From borrowing piles of red dresses, to collaborating with art classes to make posters and reaching out to the Friendship Centre to arrange a feast and find some drummers/singers, the students say they grew a lot over the project.
“We talked to a lot of people, got a lot of exposure on the Internet, got out of our comfort zones,” said Carpenter. “She (Destiny Derouin) can’t usually speak in front of the class and she just spoke in front of a hundred people. When we first initiated this project we thought that it was too much.”
“We were just going to do a walk to raise awareness,” said Derouin. “But we went in much deeper. We made banners, and we talked to a lot of people. We put a lot of effort into it and it feels really good. We put the thought in people’s heads and that’s what counts for us.”