Two Vancouver Island activists have spearheaded a movement to try and gather information about missing Indigenous women who lived on the island.
Commuters traveling along the Old Island Highway through Nanoose Bay can spot two massive electronic billboards featuring photos of missing women Angeline Pete and Lisa Marie Young and seeking information about their whereabouts.
These are just two of the many new signs that have cropped up in the area, thanks to fundraising efforts undertaken by Comox Valley residents Jeanine Lindsay and Carla Voyageur.
Their movement was inspired by a local family who had put up billboards for a young girl that went missing 25 years ago.
“They’d put up billboards all over Old Island Highway, it was quite striking. Carla and I were talking about it one evening and how sad it was to know that so many Indigenous families were marginalized and they wouldn’t be able to afford to put up signage like that,” Lindsay tells Victoria Buzz.
“We wanted to do something that would bring awareness at all times. We’d looked at inspiration from the Moose Hide campaign and we’d thought that maybe we could do something similar.”
Lil’ Red Dress Project
The two women set to work creating the Lil’ Red Dress Project, through which they began making and selling beaded “red dress” pins and earrings.
With a team of around 12 volunteers in Comox Valley, and an additional branch in Port Alberni, the project has raised around $10,000 since its inception in September 2018.
Lindsay and Voyageur then used these funds to purchase three electronic billboards, two of which feature missing women while the third offers a statistic from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report. They have also posted several static billboards of the women in the Black Creek area.
The national inquiry report calls violence against Indigenous women and girls a “race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples,” finding that the demographic is 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than any other group in Canada.
Of the two women featured on the new Vancouver Island billboards, Voyageur is personally acquainted with the family of Angeline Pete, who went missing from North Vancouver in 2011 at the age of 28.
Young, on other hand, was just 21 when she disappeared from Nanaimo in 2002.
It is difficult to estimate how many women and girls have gone missing on Vancouver Island over the past few decades – even the national inquiry found that no one knows the exact number of MMIWG in Canada due to lack of records and reporting.
However Voyageur guesses, through information gathered from her personal network, that the number of women missing from Vancouver Island is equivalent or more than those who have disappeared on the Highway of Tears.
For Lindsay and Voyageur, their next goal is to purchase a billboard for Angeline Pete in the Lower Mainland region from where she went missing.
However the costs of doing so are considerably higher than they are on Vancouver Island where the duo received a discount from local digital advertising company, Coast Outdoor.
“We’d also like to investigate if there are any Coast Salish women that need some exposure and light brought to their cases,” says Voyageur.
In addition to fundraising for signage to try and raise awareness for specific cases, the volunteer team hosts workshops across British Columbia teaching people how to make “red dress” pins and showing them how to contribute to the Lil’ Red Dress project.
“A grade seven class in Nanaimo, from Mountain View Elementary, took on the project and they made a whole bunch of felt red dresses for us,” says Lindsay.
Anyone who wishes to contribute donations for the Lil’ Red Dress Project or purchase their products can do so at lilreddressproject.ca.
The billboards for Angeline Pete and Lisa Marie Young will be posted for the next four months.