Brooke Gondara wears a white and blue shawl decorated with hand-sewn symbols wrapped around her shoulders as she pours bright red sand into cracks in the sidewalk in the courtyard of Santa Fe Community College. 
The shawl is her great-grandmother’s, she tells SFR, and points to a long, shiny red dress worn by a white mannequin nearby. Attached to the dress is a photo of a young woman holding a baby. The baby is Gondara. The red dress symbolizes her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Beaverheart Akins Plenty Chief. A mother of five, she was raped and murdered in the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana, where Gondara also grew up.  

The dozens of red dresses that line the outside of the courtyard and hang on the walls in the entrance in SFCC, and the small group of people filling the cracks in the courtyard with red sand, are all part of the The REDress Project and Red Sand Project.

The Red Sand Project is a national artwork project created by Molly Gochman that uses “sidewalk interventions and earthwork to create opportunities for people to question, connect and take action against vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking and exploitation.”

Gondara plans SFCC’s Red Sand exhibits around the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). 

The REDress Project, which began in Canada, is an art project where each red dress represents a missing or murdered indigenous woman. 

Each woman was chosen by someone from the Indigenous Peoples Club.
Red dresses featuring missing or murdered indigenous women.
Red dresses featuring missing or murdered indigenous women. | Katherine Lewin
“Quite a few of these are high profile cases from up north [and] several of them are from my home reservation,” Gondara says. The project has grown significantly since she started it after arriving in Santa Fe two years ago. November’s exhibition had twice as many dresses as the last one, according to Gondara. 

The red dresses display began Nov. 4 and will remain up for the rest of the month at SFCC. Other events earlier this month were more celebratory, including Pueblo dancers, the Native Arts & Craft Show and a screening of short films. 

It is the third time in two years for the project at SFCC as part of  part of the celebration of Native American Heritage Month, with Gondara leading the way. She is the associate dean of the Schools of Trades, Advanced Technologies and Sustainability and of Business, Professional Studies and Education at SFCC and she helps run the Indigenous Peoples Club. 

Brooke Gondora and Lee Standing Elk in the courtyard at Santa Fe Community College.
Brooke Gondora and Lee Standing Elk in the courtyard at Santa Fe Community College. | Katherine Lewin
“There’s too much of it going on, there’s just so many [women],” Gondara says as to why she started the Red Sand/REDress projects at SFCC. “We could go find easily tons more names and faces. It hits close to home when it is close to home. Then you start doing your research down here around Albuquerque. Albuquerque is one of the highest trafficking areas where women and girls go missing.”

The Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle released a report last year that found 37 missing person and homicide cases for Native American women in Albuquerque alone. There were 78 total in New Mexico—the most of any other state in the country.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Justice found that American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. 

Katherine Lewin