*This article was first published in the Native Sun News
RAPID CITY — Some say that a picture can speak a thousand words: Some however, can do more than that.
A photo posted by First Nations woman, Sarah Rainville, on Twitter, along with hashtag #ImNotNext, has gone viral and is giving those who are fed up with the high rates of violent crime against indigenous women in Canada a far reaching platform to speak from.
Rainville, 25, a citizen of the Soto First Nation from Sakimay, SK, chose to take her own personal message to social media. The catalyst for Renville’s revelation to post the photo and create the hashtag came about in response to a different social media campaign that asked the question #AmINext. #AmINext was intended to create awareness about the high rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada. However, Rainville, felt that a more powerful and empowering message was more appropriate.
“I would never go to Canada and ask if I am next. It is time we lift our people I am not going to be next. My people are not going to be next. And my children are not going to be next,” said Rainville. “I am not next I don’t want to be next,” said Rainville. “This was not from a victim’s standpoint or from a place of fear.”
Despite denials from conservative media outlets and lack of action from non-Indigenous politicians across Canada, an epidemic of violent crime committed against Indigenous women is well underway in the country just to the north of the United States.
Recently the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released a report that placed the number of missing or murdered Indigenous women in the country at approximately 1,200. According to some Indigenous rights activists the number is actually closer to 1,400.
Rainville said that she does not feel that she is an activist and that she just spoke for herself when she posted the photo.
“It is encouraging to see that it is uplifting other people. I really do care for our people and not just our women either this includes the men and the young people that are really struggling,” said Rainville.
Shortly after she posted the photo she began to receive feedback from other people who felt that the hashtag #ImNotNext was more representative of how they felt. Responses to the campaign have painted a solid picture of the resilience and resistance that many First Nations people are voicing in response to the high numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada.
“I am more comfortable with #ImNotNext. I will not be vulnerable. I will be (an) empowered Native woman taking a stand,” said one woman posting from Calgary, AB posting from the Twitter account @xobless.
“I don’t think this is a new issue…It stems from policies that do not protect our people that are meant to harm our people,” said Rainville. “Our people are looked at inherently “rapeable” and inherently killable. Social media has created a platform where we can voice and confront it. This is not just about missing and murdered women but about what colonization has done to our people.”
The perceived lack of response from Canadian government officials to the crimes along with a shared history dominated by the Canadian government’s persecution of first nation people has instilled a sense of apprehension from Indigenous people in the country. Instead of shying away from the tough topics however many First Nation people have taken matters in to their own hands and created community institutions like the online database for missing and murdered indigenous women located at www.ItStartsWithUs-MMIW.com and grassroots social media campaigns like #IamNotNext.
Ntawnis Piapot, a Cree journalist from Regina, SK, has covered the topic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada extensively says that the campaign and others like it are partly in response to the Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s failure to take action.
“This campaign is giving indigenous women their power back, to not be scared, to be proactive. (Some are asking) the Harper government for an inquiry in to the missing and murdered women issue. This hasn’t happened and seems to be getting pushed aside,” said Piapot.
“The high rates of violence against aboriginal women is disproportionate to that of non-Aboriginal women and the justice is served more swiftly if you are a non-Aboriginal,” she said.
Piapot says that through her work as a journalist and her experiences as an Indigenous woman she has an understanding of the impacts of the high rates of violence against her demographic.
“As a journalist I have covered these stories and sat with the families of victims for hours and that experience never really leaves you. Those stories and those people…you carry them with you,” said Piapot. “I think we need to be more proactive. I have personally experienced violence against myself, just walking down the street in Winnipeg and Regina. This is very real.”
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright permission Native Sun News