‘Red Garment Project’ at Edmonds church spotlights missing and murdered Indigenous people

Almost every red garment is displayed with a sign that shows the statistics of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

About 20 red dresses, shirts and other garments are displayed in the garden outside Edmonds Lutheran Church as part of its third annual art installation of “The Red Dress Project.” The project this year was renamed “The Red Garment Project” to include missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) men, boys and Two-Spirited people

The exhibition was started by Edmonds Lutheran Church member Kyra Isaac in 2022 with help from her family – including her parents Kevin and Sydney – and other church members. It was inspired by The REDress Project that Canadian artist Jaime Black (Métis) started in 2011.

L-R: Kevin, Sydney and Kyra Isaac.

“When we started it, it was just missing and murdered Indigenous women,” Kyra Isaac said. “This [event] resonates with me being an Indigenous woman and having a higher risk of…being a statistic. I think education is the best way to prevent this from happening.”

Each garment symbolizes the missing AI/An people in the U.S., serving as a poignant reminder of their lives and the ongoing issue of violence against Indigenous communities.

“These garments are waiting for their owners to come home,” said Kevin, who is half Cayuga – one of the five original constituents of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. “None of them have come home. Only 116 cases are being investigated by the (U.S.) Department of Justice. Where’s the disconnect? Where’s the equality?”

Two people visit the The Red Garment Project at Edmonds Lutheran Church.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) reported that there are about 4,200 cases of missing and murdered people that have gone unsolved. While they make up about 3% of the U.S. population, Indigenous Americans and Alaska Natives have higher rates of murder, rape and other violent crimes than national averages.

For example, the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) reported 2,226 homicides of AI/ANs between 2003 and 2018, with 1,681 male and 545 female victims. An earlier study reported that the homicide rate of AI/ANs is four times higher (12.1 per 100,000 people) than the rate for whites (2.8 per 100,000 people).

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Indigenous children made up 294 of the 28,845 children reported missing to the center in 2023. About 96% of these children reported missing were unresolved.


Each red garment was bought from a thrift store or donated by church members or local residents.

The BIA also reported:

– In 2016, four in five AI/AN women (84.3%) have experienced violence in their lifetime, including 56.1% who have experienced sexual violence.

– Nearly 40% percent of AI/ANs women had experienced violence, including 14.4% who had experienced sexual violence.

– More than 1.5 million AI/ANs have experienced violence in their lifetime.

“When many of these Indigenous people go missing, someone will drive onto a reservation, they will abduct someone, and take them away and have their way, whether that’s an attack or a killing,” Sydney Isaac said. “And there’s no jurisdiction that will go after them because the tribal police have no jurisdiction outside of the sovereign lands, and the common police don’t have jurisdiction on anything that happens on reservations. So it’s like a free pass. That needs to stop. There needs to be accountability.”

She added that the U.S. government and the Catholic Church has not acknowledged the abuse that occurred in U.S. boarding schools for Native children. “And by not addressing it, you’re perpetuating the generational trauma, and you are allowing the children of people who were in those boarding schools to continue to fight for a justice that doesn’t seem to be reachable,” she said.

She is also concerned that if something happens to her children, who are a quarter Native, they are less likely to be found or paid attention to than white children.

Sydney Isaac mentioned that the killing of Gabby Petito – a white woman – in 2021 was nationally publicized while many missing or murdered people of color – especially Indigenous Americans – were given scant coverage or completely ignored. After Petito’s body was found a month after her reported disappearance, some media commentators cited this as an example of “selective coverage” and “white woman syndrome” where missing young, attractive, white women are more likely to be covered by the media than women of other races and ethnicities.

Around the time that Petito was missing, three Indigenous people – Markie Shea Williams, Sterling Prinze Redstar and Cloelle Buck Elk – were also reported missing in Montana. None of them received the amount of coverage Petito did. 

Sydney suggests that people who want to help should write letters to their elected officials requesting formation of a task force that would solve cold cases and provide resources aimed at issues that the AI/AN population face.

“If every Indigenous person was treated like Gabby Petito, we would have some families who could finally have some closure,” Sydney said.

The Isaacs are extending The Red Garment Project exhibition by another week. The last day is May 17. The family plans to do it again next year.

“We hope more people come,” Kyra said.

If you want to help, contact:

– Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

– U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell

– Your state representatives to convey the importance of funding for cold cases as well as active investigation work

– Your county executive to give a central (safe) place for families to connect with resources

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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