Red Ribbon Skirt Society hangs up red dresses for missing and murdered indigenous women awareness
RAPID CITY, S.D. – To remember missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW), the annual red dresses display is up for the public to visit at the Journey Museum in Rapid City.
The Red Ribbon Skirt Society, which has been putting up the display since 2016, helps families remember their loved ones and brings more MMIW awareness to the area.
February 14, a day many know as Valentine’s Day, is also a national day for MMIW awareness across the United States and Canada.
What is the display
“Every year we hang those dresses for awareness in the community and also to remember our missing and murdered indigenous women,” Lily Mendoza, founder of the Red Ribbon Skirt Society, said.
About 30 red dresses are securely tied up, staying on the ropes they’re fastened to even against the wind.
Sparing even just a minute to stop by, officials say you can feel the presence of spirits while standing around the display.
“It’s really nice to know that we are providing that space for them to come and pray. A lot of our families, a lot of their women are still missing and so it gives them an opportunity and a safe place to come and be amongst the dresses and pray,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza says that red is the color that the spirits can see.
“When we gather, you can actually feel that [the spirits] and I mean, even last night when we were putting up the dresses, it was a very moving moment for those of us because you can really feel it,” She said. “Just last spring, we did a retreat and we had a lot of families there. One of our members just recently shared with the group we were doing a presentation for, she said, ‘we could feel them there.’ They’re there and they’re watching over us to make sure that we are their voice. That’s a big part of our movement, is that we are a voice for them. We’re a voice for those families that are really suffering through this grief.”
Photos of the red dresses:
Why continue running the display
“It becomes a part of our responsibility as a society, especially women. We felt when we began this that somebody needed to do it, right?” Mendoza said. “We took it on and we have grown in our movement, as far as mothers and grandmothers and young women that are also doing the work. So we will continue to do this.
Mendoza says that her family and other members’ families are all involved with it and it’s something that needs to continue and happen.
“I think that we are making strides in the area, even though the numbers keep on increasing. It’s really very sad, but building partnerships within the state, with those entities that can help us make a difference is going to help the movement and my people.”
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
“The sad thing is it continues to grow,” Mendoza said. “As far as awareness and education, there’s a lot of that going on in communities, not only in South Dakota but across the United States and it continues to grow. We still have a lot of missing women that have not been found and so what we do is we work with those families to kind of help them through that complicated grief because they don’t know where they’re at. You know, maybe they might be somewhere, but maybe they might have been murdered and they can’t find them.”
On May 5, which is another significant date for MMIW, Red Ribbon Skirt Society will be hosting a Red Dress Gala.
“It’s never been done in the state. Part of hosting that event is a huge campaign around awareness and education, but also support for those families and will be having some of the families attend and sharing their stories,” Mendoza said. “It’s also a really good time to bring those families up from the reservation and treat them, kind of remove them from their grief just for a little bit. Even though it’s going to be a sad day, we hope to make it a very, very special event for the families.”