|By Jacqueline Hansen, Amnesty International’s Major Campaigns and Women’s Human Rights Campaigner.|
Holly Jarrett is the grassroots activist behind the “Am I Next?” viral social media campaign. Originally from Labrador and now based in Ontario, she has worked with national Aboriginal organizations, including Inuit organizations, since 1991, and has been a grassroots organizer since 1998. Holly’s cousin, Loretta Saunders, was murdered in Halifax earlier this year. Follow the Am I Next? campaign on Facebook.
Amnesty International talked to Holly as part of a series marking the 10th anniversary of the Stolen Sisters report on violence against Indigenous women. We asked Holly for her reflections on progress made and remaining challenges in making sure that there are No More Stolen Sisters. Here is what she had to say.
How are you working to address violence against Indigenous women?
My goal is to empower women, educate the public, always be a good role model for other women, and to walk in honor of those who came before me. I don’t take a terribly loud approach, because we are talking about “violence.” I try to remember my compassion, and empathy, and I try to keep a little piece of myself always in reserve, to remind myself that we all have a voice, and some just need a little lift to get there.
What is the importance of families working together?
There’s a history of passive genocide over a period of hundreds of years. Our women are being stolen and murdered. Our children are being stolen and given away. Anything we are doing to survive through that is progress. And we are—we are progressing.
I see a lot of our warrior women burning out. Some have been on the same boat for the rough ride for so long that the seasickness weighs in their hearts and on their faces. We, the family members of the missing and murdered, are a group of people you can never be prepared to be part of. And nobody would wish that on you. We didn’t set out to become activists—we were forced into it by circumstance without training.
The personal battle we sometimes endure as family members is disheartening. We have our personal struggles—to find out loved ones, wonder about her murder—and that in itself is akin to torture. But then we also have to struggle to convince the government to respond to the travesty when even we cry and scream out for help.
As someone new to the walk for justice for our women (my family lost Loretta only in February), I feel a little like a torch has been given to me. This is something I would never want, but I know I am keeping good company with so many strong family members.
I don’t look forward on passing a torch to anyone else though. When Tina Fontaine’s body was found my heart broke again.
Are there things you think most Canadians don’t understand yet?
Canadians don’t understand the impact of colonialism yet. Either the majority dismiss it or don’t have any idea what it is. I think social media and the unity and solidarity that is coming together in the past year is doing a better job at making Canadians feel like this also is something that belongs to them and that they are responsible.
I really believe in Canadians. I think Canada will come through and not let the issue out of their mouths and minds anytime soon. That’s a good thing. We are talking more and more. They are coming along well.
What action would you like to see at the government level?
A national inquiry of course! Owned and operated Indigenous peoples and family members.
What do you want to see ten years from now?
In ten years from now, I want to see more community programming and money sunk into more services offered to Aboriginal families. I would like to see more unity within our own people.
What is more important is what I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see this happen to any more families. No more missing and no more murdered women.