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Hundreds march on Red Dress Day as Ross River woman still missing

Ramona Peter has been missing since April 28

Editor’s Note: The following story contains reflections on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people which may be disturbing or triggering to readers.

Hundreds of people marched on the Millennium Trail on May 5 for Red Dress Day, which honours the women, girls and two-spirit people who are missing or have been murdered.

Drummers led the walk, which began at the Education department building and followed the Millennium Trail to the MMIWG2S+ monument for a moment of prayer. Forty-five red dresses were hung along the walking path to recognize the 44 targeted in the community, with one extra dress to represent the women, girls and two-spirited individuals still targeted.

After the approximately hour-long march, attendees gathered around a sacred fire at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, which was kept for 45 hours. After lunch of chili and bannock, community members smudged attendees and offered hand-tied satchels of tobacco to offer the fire.

Firekeeper Doronn Fox spoke first, explaining that the fire had been burning since 5 p.m. the previous Wednesday.

“There’s been a lot of people who have come to the fire in the past few days,” Fox said. “Mothers, sisters, daughters talking about ones that they’ve lost, ones that have gone missing. It’s been hard to hold fire here.”

Fox said that while keeping fire, he spoke with elders about the importance of men supporting women.

“We’re in hard times. Women were the keepers of the drum and medicine; they’re the ones who gave it to us men, to help us, so that one day the men would have to give it back to the women,” Fox said. “I’m a firm believer that that is now.”

Fox then invited anyone to speak, and an intimate discussion was led by a few women before the circle was closed with prayer.

Above the fire pit’s stone steps, a string was hung with letters cut into the shapes of red dresses. The offerings of love, care and memories were burned with the tobacco.

Red Dress Day has been a national event since 2010. Its intention is to bring awareness of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and create a safe space for women to tell their stories. Between 2011 and 2021, more than 20 per cent of female homicide victims in Canada were Indigenous, according to Statistics Canada.

In Whitehorse, many participants carried posters and other emblems seeking Ramona Peter, who was reported missing on April 28. She was last seen at the Dena General Store in Ross River on April 21.

An intensive weekend search followed the Friday march, with community members joining Yukon Search and Rescue and RCMP in Ross River. Around the sacred fire, Peter’s friends and family members shared details of the search so far, encouraging others to help that weekend.

“With all the struggles she experienced … Ramona is still a person,” said Marie Eshleman. “She’s loving, she’s the type of person who takes the time to talk to you, and smile at you, and say I love you.”

Peter was still missing as of May 10. Anyone with information regarding Peter’s whereabouts is asked to contact Ross River RCMP at 867-969-2677 or 867-969-5555 or contact Crimestoppers via phone at 867-667-6715.