HALIFAX — A woman spearheading a social media campaign about missing and murdered aboriginal women says she isn’t worried about the initiative fading from the public consciousness like other online campaigns have done in the past.
Holly Jarrett said the campaign, in which people are asked to take a photo of themselves holding a sign that reads, “#AmINext,” seeks to open up a national discussion on the issue of aboriginal women who have disappeared or been murdered.
Other campaigns have previously gained momentum on social media, such as the recent ice bucket challenge for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable degenerative disease that causes paralysis and death.
Some have debated the effectiveness of such campaigns, questioning the long-term value of posting a video or photo of yourself online.
But Jarrett said a major difference between her campaign and others is that she’s not asking for any money — she simply wants to raise awareness of an issue.
“I really think that if people understand all of these issues and we start talking about them, I really think the general Canadian public is not going to let these issues go,” said Jarrett from Cornwall, Ont.
There is a personal connection to Jarrett’s campaign. She is the cousin of Loretta Saunders, an Inuit woman from Labrador who was found dead in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick, two weeks after she was reported missing from her Halifax apartment in February.
“Since Loretta has been gone, I’ve always thought that if suburban Canadians knew about this, if you made people aware of what the actual issues are, I really don’t think anybody is going to turn a blind eye,” Jarrett said.
Jarrett said she is urging people to demand a public inquiry from Prime Minister Stephen Harper into the 1,181 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women nationwide.
She admits that she doubts the campaign will convince Ottawa to launch such an inquiry, but says what’s more important is making Canadians aware of the issue.
“I don’t think that this is going to spark an inquiry in itself,” said Jarrett. “I think it’s going to spark change in other people … to want to dive into an issue and say, ‘Hey, let’s Google that.'”
Harper has repeatedly turned down calls for an inquiry. The federal government has, however, said it is willing to take part in a roundtable discussion about the issue as called for by the premiers.
The government has also said it has taken action to deal with the problem, including setting up a national DNA missing person’s index and introducing 30 justice and safety initiatives aimed at helping native women.
One picture posted as part of the campaign depicts several young women standing in front of Parliament Hill holding cardboard signs above their heads bearing the campaign hashtag.
A Twitter user who identifies herself as Jessica Penney tweeted an #AmINext picture that also said, “Because it IS a sociological phenomenon,” a reference to Harper’s response last month when he was asked about the ongoing calls for a public inquiry.
Jarrett said some people are critical of the phrase, “Am I Next,” saying it victimizes aboriginal women. But Jarrett said she’s still encouraged by the discussion.
“As long as we’re talking about it, that’s way further than we were last year.”