Indigenous Red Dress Project comes to Gus Wetter School

Jaymi Rausch, left, with caretaker Laura Kelly who helped hang the dresses around the school. As the nature of the topic is sensitive, the project was only introduced in the senior high area. ECA Review/Jaymi Rausch
Written by Terri Huxley

Jaymi Rausch, left, with caretaker Laura Kelly who helped hang the dresses around the school. As the nature of the topic is sensitive, the project was only introduced in the senior high area. ECA Review/Jaymi Rausch

Jami Rausch is a school teacher and arts director at Gus Wetter School in Castor.

The idea of bringing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Red Dress Project came after experiencing the effects of hate crimes personally.

Although she is not of aboriginal descent herself, she grew up in The Pas, Man. with a high indigenous population.

It was here in 1971 that a family friend, 19-year-old Hellen Betty Osborne, was murdered by four men in a highly publicized case of racism.

With this experience, Rausch has brought the project to life at Gus Wetter to not only share how this shaped her personally but to bring native issues to the forefront in a primarily white population within east central Alberta.

“Sometimes kids in our more rural communities don’t really have a lot of interaction with indigenous communities because we are not physically located in proximity. We are pretty remote. 

So I just wanted to bring a little bit of awareness to the overall issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women to the school and one way to do that was with the Red Dress Project,” said Rausch.

This project was set up in the high school end as the subject matter is more sensitive.

Photos of missing Alberta people were put up as well as some paragraphs on the project as to why indigenous issues like this are a human rights crisis in Canada and the history as well as red dresses were hung around the high school to represent murdered women in the province.

“This is happening in our background and there is something we can do about it or a conversation that needs to be had,” she said.

A poem by Rausch was included about Hellen Betty Osborne and the story behind her life and eventual abduction and murder.

The four men responsible were free for 16 years before being indicted.

One constable who joined the detachment in 1983 visited and then reopened the case and did not give up.

In the end, an anonymous tip led to getting one of the murderers to confess and testify against two others.

“I talked with my principal and her and I both thought it was a really important thing to highlight and that maybe we could show more of a leadership role in central Alberta and in Clearview School Division to try to take this on,” said Rausch.

Rausch sits on a First Nation, Metis and Inuit committee for the division as well. 

Two presenters of indigenous heritage have been brought in already to share presentations this year.

“I got a lot of good feedback from my trustees and stuff.

“As for within the division, a couple of indigenous students have approached her and shared their appreciation for bringing this topic to light and helping them feel seen.

“I’m glad that the kids feel heard and represented and part of our community,” she said.

May 5 was the National Red Dress Day so Rausch and other staff encouraged students to wear red to bring further awareness.

The school has chosen to raise money for the Indigenous Women’s Fund of Canada to directly help those affected.

Visit here to donate: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/indigenous-womens-fund-of-canada/

 

Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.