May 5 marks Red Dress Day, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)—this day honors the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.

On this day, Indigenous families, communities and organizations across the country display and hang out red dresses to symbolize the loss of their mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and other family members that never came home. As the dresses are empty, they evoke the missing women and girls who should be wearing them.

The color red has spiritual significance to Indigenous Peoples: for some it is a part of a First Nations Medicine Wheel, for others, it symbolizes lifeblood and powerful emotions; still more see red as embodying power and reminding us of those women who came before us.

Providence Health Care (PHC) acknowledges there is much work to be done to decrease the disproportionate number of Indigenous women who experience violence, go missing or are murdered.

We are taking steps to contribute to change through our first-ever Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation Action Plan (IWRAP), specifically under the goal to, “Undertake targeted initiatives to support Indigenous seniors, women and those with mental health and substance use needs”.

Research and data coming out of various studies including the 2019 final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Reclaiming Power and Place, unquestionably confirms that Indigenous women have long been subject to disproportionate and compounding oppression, especially within the health care system in Canada.

Evidence coming out of the National Inquiry formed 231 Calls for Justice to address ongoing systemic abuses and violations committed against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.

PHC will work with partner organizations to address the system failures inequitably impacting Indigenous women, enhance cultural safety, and generate trust.

We will also work with other health organizations within the region to better understand the experiences of Indigenous women – including as related to maternity care – and develop a shared strategy to support their cultural safety and desired health outcomes.

Two recent activities undertaken by PHC’s Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation team to support Indigenous women include:

  • Tales from X̱WÁY̓X̱WAY̓ – Four medicine walks held in March 2022 that focused on Indigenous cis and trans women, and Two Spirit people that were led by Knowledge Keepers from host Nations. The events included sharing of the history and medicines of X̱WÁY̓X̱WAY̓ (Stanley Park), weaving, story-telling and the sharing of traditional Indigenous foods and teas. These events were held in partnership with the Aboriginal Mother’s Centre and the Pacific Association of First Nations Women.
  • Patient Journey Mapping – The Team has been engaging with Indigenous patients from PHC sites in a process called Patient journey mapping. This is an exercise used to better understand how patients interact with our health sites throughout their care journey and draw out learnings that can show us how to provide better, more culturally safe care. The most recent round of mapping had a special focus on Indigenous women and maternity patients.

Understanding that the emergency department is the locus of care for many Indigenous women, seniors, and those with mental health and substance use needs, PHC will make particular efforts to improve the experience, quality, and model of care in the St. Paul’s hospital Emergency Department, including through enhanced peer support models.

Missing and Murdered Women from the Downtown Eastside

Providence also acknowledges that one of our largely served populations is residents of the Downtown Eastside (DTES). On April 3, 2019 the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre release a report named Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — this report is based on the leadership, lived experience and expertise shared by Indigenous women in the DTES.

This report was the culmination of a participatory process with over 100 women regarding the National MMIWG Inquiry, but was specific to the experience of women in the DTES and it culminated in 200 key recommendations specific to their needs and well-being. PHC’s Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation Action Plan indicates where our goals are in alignment with several of the key recommendations.

As stated in our Action Plan, within five years we will have, “enhanced our Indigenous-specific services, implemented visible improvements to our facilities, and undertaken initiatives to address the unique and pressing needs of Indigenous women.

Still, we know that despite this commitment, patients and residents may experience harm. We are committed to ensuring that we are transparent, accountable and learn from those events and will improve the safety and cultural relevance of our processes for complaints and incidents”.

You can read the complete final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Reclaiming Power and Place, and the 231 Calls to Justice.

Read the Report and Calls to Justice