The Red Shawl Solidarity Project


“One in three. . .” This is how it starts. As a woman, I know how this story ends. We know the stories too well. Know the numbers better than the people they are referring to. Indigenous communities are way too familiar with the violence that Indigenous women face. As we know, women are sacred, and we need to treat them as such. Often when talking about violence against Native women, we are quick to call out colonizers with skin lighter than our own yet continue to let community members into our home who have committed acts of violence without holding them accountable for their actions. How do we support those women society calls victims? How do we acknowledge the Indigenous people who are silenced and ignored? That’s where The Red Shawl Solidarity Project (RSSP) comes in.

The Red Shawl Solidarity Project was brought to my school, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), by student doctor Elizabeth Stahmer. This idea was not original to Dr. Stahmer, as it stemmed from other existing projects, but the concept is the same. The most concise information describing solidarity shawls can be found on the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition website. The RSSP serves to honor survivors and bring awareness to domestic and sexual violence in Indigenous communities. The colors used in the shawl are red, purple, and teal. The teal colored fringe honors victims and survivors of sexual assault. The purple colored fringe honors victims and survivors of domestic violence. The red colored shawl honors all Native people who have survived many forms of violence throughout history.

The RSSP started at IAIA after a stone statue representing a woman was defaced on the breast and lower part of the torso. Another issue that prompted this project was multiple students coming forward about sexual harassment and assault that were not being handled correctly by the institution. The RSSP allowed both men and women to have a safe space to cope with their trauma while also partnering with outside organizations to provide resources and workshops to continue a healthy dialogue on issues that can otherwise be difficult to deal with alone.

When I joined the AIHEC Student Congress as the Southwest representative I knew I wanted to bring the RSSP to all 36 TCUs because I saw the impact it made at my college. As a student congress, we decided to bring the RSSP to the AIHEC Student Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota, during the parade of flags. Because we wanted all the schools to be involved, we didn’t just limit it to shawls. The results were amazing. Some highlights were seeing students at Diné College wear red bandanas in solidarity while Sitting Bull College made shirts to show their support. The biggest takeaway was seeing healing happen right before my eyes, as people who had experienced sexual assault or violence were supported by their peers and sister colleges.

The AIHEC Student Congress plans on making the Red Shawl Solidarity Project present at every annual spring student conference. With 2018 being the kickoff year, the AIHEC Student Congress is hoping to see the number of students showing solidarity increase.

Standing in Solidarity should not stop at the conference, and support doesn’t just mean wearing red. It means believing your neighbor, standing up when someone does or says something inappropriate, etc. Most importantly, it means actively implementing and practicing change to make colleges and communities safer places.

Scarlett Cortez is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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