An array of red dresses are displayed in the Fine Arts Gallery, hanging to bring awareness to the deaths and disappearances of indigenous women. Inspired by Jaime Black’s ReDress project, Intertribal Native Council (INC) knew last year they wanted to create an impactful event during Native American Heritage Month, the month of November, and bring awareness to these silenced issues with the Womxn Are Sacred exhibition.
Acknowledging that there is an astounding amount of silence regarding these acts can be one of the first steps to getting involved. According to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, there were 506 missing and murdered indigenous women cases across 71 urban cities. 280 of those were cases of murdered indigenous women and 128 were cases of missing indigenous women.
Ro Parker is the coordinator for the Multicultural Student Center and helped bring this exhibition to campus in partnership with the Intertribal Native Council.
“Indigenous issues have been really invisibilized in our society,” Parker said. “So this is one of the things people can do to help make themselves more aware of issues that are impacting one of the most marginalized communities in our country.”
With the Fine Arts Gallery space reserved, members from INC, including president Tanyka Begaye, have been working hard throughout the last year to accumulate red dresses. Feeling inspired from Black’s project, senior elementary education major Begaye and the INC members drew parallels and gathered different red dress designs to represent each missing and/or murdered indigenous women.
“We brought it up first through the Tunnel of Oppression last year, and from there, we were kind of just snowballing ideas,” Begaye said. “At one of our meetings, we knew we wanted to do something for the month of November. We wanted to do something that brought up similar feelings that Black’s project portrayed, but also be different.”
INC knew they wanted to create a striking visual that was both stunning and sparking that crucial discussion into awareness.
“We wanted to layer all 75 dresses on top of each other to really represent that they are an entire identity that creates that togetherness,” Begaye. “But it’s just so visual that you have to recognize it, you can’t just walk by it, you have to look at it.”
With such a large audience, the Boise State SUB was an easy choice for where to host the exhibition. Melissa Maxey is the curatorial assistant at Boise State and she discusses how important an exhibition like this is not only for students or faculty but for the general public, as well.
“We are happy to provide a space where we have thousands of people that come through the SUB and our galleries are seen by not just people here in the valley, but from all over the world,” Maxey said. “So, it gives an opportunity for exhibitions to be seen in a different way.”
Begaye discusses how the exhibition is important in more ways than one. Along with being culturally impactful, the display also hits home for a lot of members of the INC community.
“It’s very personally related to us, a lot of our communities more specifically,” Begaye said. “We’ve each had somebody go missing and/or murdered, or both and that’s it how it ties so closely to our own people. We’re all from different tribes, but it’s still the same in each one.”
As something so silenced, not just in the Boise community, but across the nation, Parker discusses the significance of this exhibit and why that silence exists.
“We as a country are willing to call other things that happen on different countries holocausts and genocides but we don’t look at our own participation in that,” Parker said. “I think part of that invisibilization is because mainstream society doesn’t really want to talk about it. I think it has this tinge of discomfort and guilt and shame that in the background that people don’t identify that these are those things that keep it silenced.”
The Womxn Are Sacred exhibition will be on campus until November 24th.