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Red Dress Day commemorated by Comox Valley Aboriginal Head Start

This story may contain information that is difficult for many. A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support to former residential school students who can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

The coordinator of the Aboriginal Head Start in the Comox Valley is asking for respect and understanding in light of Red Dress Day.

Grace Johnson, originally from Kingcome Inlet on B.C.’s Central Coast, says the day is important because of the way she and other Indigenous women have been treated.

“As a First Nations woman, I grew up being taught to be afraid of the police,” she said. “We weren’t protected. I grew up seeing that and that’s not the people we run to.

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“There’s a lot of prejudice in Canada and there are serial killers and people that take advantage of that. That was pretty clear with what happened with [Robert] Pickton.”

She adds reading the book “Highway of Tears” reminded her of many experiences she has had hitchhiking in the province.

Johnson suggests people ask what they can do differently to treat Indigenous women better.

“I think we all need to understand how systemic racism plays a part in this, that everyone needs to learn about their own biases and what they can individually do differently,” she said.

Johnson adds changes can be made every day.

“It’s being followed in a store, it’s someone saying ‘little man on a totem pole.’ Now that’s improper. Those everyday things are hard on us.”

She asks that people treat Indigenous women better and respect the teachings they have.

“We are the backbone of society, we are the life-givers and we need to be honoured and respected,” she said. “If everybody could check their own biases that would make a difference in all our lives every day.”

The Comox Valley Aboriginal Head Start aims to give children the education Johnson says her mother was denied, like speaking her language.

“Aboriginal Head Start is for young children between the ages of four and five. We’re a preschool,” said Johnson. “It is a chance for children to do what my mother, who is a survivor of residential school, was banned from doing.”

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