Canada’s Shame: 582 Indigenous women and girls have been reported missing or murdered since 1980. That estimate is low. We each have the responsibility to demand justice, and to work for change. One small thing you can do: Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper what you think.
Is this message compelling and coherent to you? Can it blaze through the cacophony of messages competing for your attention? In this age of information overload, anyone can share their voice, but we are each competing for your mindshare. For your willingness to pay attention to the message.
These were the questions I asked myself on October 3rd, in an earlier version of this post. I was doing my small part to promote the 7th Annual Families of Sisters in Spirit National Vigil, held on October 4th, 2012, on Parliament Hill (Unceded Algonquin Territory).
In Canada, Indigenous women are at a greater risk of violence than non-Indigenous women (as you can see in the above image, courtesy Amnesty International). Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS) is a volunteer, grassroots, non-profit organization led by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Their annual Vigil gives the families of these loved and lost women and girls the chance to speak, to be heard, on the Hill. It is an opportunity for everyone to listen, to be there is solidarity, and to show that the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls is unacceptable and must stop.
In the mainstream media, “if it bleeds, it leads”, so most of us have heard the sensationalized versions of some of the murdered women’s stories.
But when do we hear about the inspiring work of FSIS, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Amnesty International, KAIROS, and others, to demand justice and change? NWAC started the original Sisters in Spirit Vigil in 2005 based on Bridget Tolley (co-founder of FSIS)’s idea. Since then, more and more Vigils are held in solidarity with the FSIS Vigil on the Hill. Mainstream media coverage of the Vigils has been scant in past years. On the morning of October 3rd, NWAC issued a press release calling on local and national media to cover the October 4th Vigils.
This year, more families than ever from across Canada made the trip to be there on the Hill, thanks to FSIS. It was that much more important to show them that people do care.
I’m unknown. I don’t have big money to amplify my message. I don’t have a platform. I don’t have a job that pays me to craft compelling messages, or the personal resources to grant me the time to craft these messages.
But a flame burns inside me to draw attention to issues I feel are neglected. Despite my day job, I write songs. I can’t help it. And against the odds, despite the fatigue, despite wondering if it is a wise use of my energy, I try to create works of art that may shine brightly enough, despite the humble origins, to reach you.
So friends and I made a video to encourage people to attend the Oct 4th Vigil, and to draw attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It was launched on September 14th, 100 views on the first day.
But no comments, and only a few likes. It was like dropping a pebble into a still pond, with barely a ripple.
Then it picked up again. It did not go viral, but had a respectable 540 views as of 3pm the day before the Vigil.
Myself and many others sent emails, posted on FB, and tweeted the night before and the morning of the Vigil. But mostly there was nothing more for us allies to do but see if the energy, effort, and all those messages would actually translate into people attending.
Suddenly, it was 6pm, time for the Vigil.
And it was well attended. And beautiful. And heartbreaking. And honoured our Stolen Sisters.
At dusk, I wondered what the Vigil looked like from the perspective of the Families. So I climbed the Parliament Hill steps to get behind them. As Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said that all the supporters present were like Medicine for the families of the missing and murdered women, I could see and feel this was true. I saw hundreds of people indeed Filling the Hill, with Love and Light.
Let’s make this blog post interactive! What do you think of the video (below)? How effective do you think it was compared to the Poster and FB Event to encourage attendance at the Vigil? What about compared to partnering with the Take Back the Night (the 34th annual Ottawa March started right after the Vigil)? This is a shifting game of weighing the effort and money it takes to create a promotional message against how effective it is. A low budget but carefully done video is like a candle to illuminate a neglected issue. How do we coax that candle’s flame to catch, to blaze the message out and achieve positive change?