Prom dress calling attention to missing, murdered Indigenous women added to Smithsonian exhibit

WASHINGTON – It’s one of the most important events in a teenager’s life – high school prom.

For Isabella Aiukli Cornell of Oklahoma City, her junior prom in 2018 was about more than just wearing a stylish gown in a high school gymnasium. It was an opportunity to call attention to what has been described as an epidemic of murder and abuse faced by Native American women.

“We have a really high rate of women who go missing every year, and there’s not a lot of media coverage about it,” Cornell said. “I wanted to make a statement about the ongoing crisis going on in our communities.”

Government statistics are sobering. Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than other ethnicities, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Figures of the National Institute of Justice suggest that 84% of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes.

For her prom in 2018, Cornell, a member of the Choctaw Nation, chose a custom-made dress made by Crow designer Della Bighair-Stump of Hardin, Montana. The purpose was to bring attention to the peril faced by Indigenous women.

“The color red is symbolic of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement,” Cornell said. “The bodice was made to incorporate a little bit of the (Choctaw) tribe by adding diamonds to the design.”

Red is the official color of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement to symbolize a bold statement, Indigenous women’s issues will be seen and heard.

Aside from being a statement color, multiple tribes also believe that red is the only color that spirits can see. The project believes that the color not only will help to bring awareness to the cause but also help guide back the spirits of the murdered women and children so they can be laid to rest.

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