Misuse of the Red Handprint Symbol
Sexual assault is real and it happens in your neigbourhoods. Organized student protests have been happening throughout the Okanagan. This isn’t meant to scare anybody, but it is meant to raise aware
ness just as the students in Kelowna and Vernon have done. They are exercising their rights to demand that “sexual assault be taken seriously” (CBC News, Feb. 18), as it should be. They want to feel safe in their schools, and that is a right. Raising awareness is a much needed exercise especially when things are happening in our own communities. The women who founded the All My Relations Podcast, Dr. Adrienne Keen of the Cherokee Nation and Matika Wilbur of the Swinomish and Tulalip peoples of coastal Washington, discuss the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in the episode, “Protect Indigenous Women.” Their guest Dr. Desi Small-Rodrigues notes that May 5th is the day to honour the lives of Missing and/or Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across the United States. They also note that one in three native women will be raped in their lifetime (National Violence Against Native Women Survey). Alarmingly, more recent information (2018) reports that only 2% of missing Indigenous women are logged into police databases. “The problem is that if there is no data, we cannot advocate to the people in power,” says Dr. Keene.
There is another concern, though, that has been raising alarm bells and needs to be addressed, and that is the growing popularity of the symbol depicting a red handprint across the mouth. It’s a powerful visual where “a red handprint across the mouth has become a symbolic representation of violence that affects Indigenous women across Canada, the United States and beyond” (CBC News, “Widespread use of red handprints to represent MMIWG sparks debate among advocates,” Mar.9,2020). Please take note that the red handprint across the mouth or on its own strictly represents MMIWG.
The problem with social media is that a wider range of issues are brought forward and different groups of people who are not First Nations, Inuit or Metis are using the red handprint for their own needs not related to the MMIWG. This is problematic because if this symbol is used to represent any victim, it minimizes and even erases the significantly continued higher rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls. The Canadian national percentage of violence against non-Indigenous females is 1:10 (statscan.gc.ca) while the ratio is 1:3 for Indigenous females (statscan.gc.ca). They are also 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing compared to non-Indigenous females (statscan.gc.ca, canadianwomen.org). These rates are alarming, and while it is important stand up and advocate for violence against women and girls, it is not okay to throw on the red handprint if you are not standing up specifically for MMIWG.
Misuse of the red handprint is appropriation. Seeing as May 5th is around the corner, I urge all teachers to teach about MMIWG and teach about the red handprint symbol. There is a bin dedicated to MMIWG at the DRC. Students and adults need to know about the symbol and why it is not okay to use it for just any type of violence against women and girls.
DRC MMIWG BIN found HERE