To read part 1, click here.
Cendrine Marrouat: How do you usually work with families?
Kristen Gilchrist: We try our best to work with families on a one-on-one basis or with other families present. But because of constraints in our budget (we can’t travel to see families) we do a lot of our support via the internet (facebook and email), over the telephone, or during events where we bring family members in. If a family member needs help writing a letter, circulating missing posters online, reaching out to the media, etc. we do our best to support them through this process. When we are face-to-face we try to share meals, stories, and help family members to connect with other family members of community allies in their area. Just knowing that they are not alone is a huge measure of support.
CM: How has the work of Families of Sisters in Spirit been received so far?
KG: I don’t know that the Native Women’s Association of Canada is necessarily thrilled with this work. We have not had any direct contact with NWAC’s leadership since we began our work in January. It’s not certain right now what that relationship will be in the future. Families of Sisters in Spirit consider ourselves to be fully independent of NWAC and accountable to families. Bridget Tolley started this group for the families and that is our primary focus at this time. Many families have been very open and excited to have the legacy of Sisters in Spirit’s work continue without having to rely on government funding. There has also been a lot of support from Elders, and both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal allies in Ottawa, Montreal, and across Canada who are offering their solidarity for families. That has been really encouraging.
CM: Is there a link between the now defunct Sisters in Spirit initiative and Families of Sisters in Spirit?
KG: The link is that the work of Sisters in Spirit staff, families, communities, and allies lives on in the work that Families of Sisters in Spirit is trying to do. Bridget was a volunteer and founding family member of the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit initiative. She was the one who came up with the idea for the yearly October 4th vigils. Last year there were more than 80 vigils held across the country. I think that is a tribute to family members across Canada leading the way.
CM: Why, according to you, is the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls still so prevalent in our country?
KG: I think there are so many interconnected factors; prevalent negative and dehumanizing stereotypes and discrimination facing Aboriginal Peoples definitely play a big part in keeping this crisis going. The colonial legacies of residential schools, the child welfare system, poverty, violence, incarceration, trauma, racism, and addiction are still very much alive today and directly implicated in the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. There is also a lack of political will to address any of these issues in a comprehensive and holistic way and to allow Aboriginal women to take the lead. Families of Sisters in Spirit understand violence not just as interpersonal acts but that violence is also deeply rooted in the historical and that it is built into the very structures of Canadian society. There is a lot of denial about these experiences and realities in non-Aboriginal communities and something we actively work to break down.
And I don’t think this is acknowledged enough, that it really seems as though many who perpetrate violence against Aboriginal women and girls do so feeling safe in the knowledge that they won’t get caught because police and justice system, media, the public, and governments will not respond or investigate these crimes, or that the victims themselves will be blamed for their own disappearance or murder. None of this is acceptable.
CM: How can people get in touch with Families of Sister in Spirit and help the organization?
KG: We don’t have a website yet, but we are active on facebook. There is a non-profit community page set up which can be ‘liked’ by searching ‘Families of Sisters in Spirit’. The page features news articles, missing alerts, photographs, events happening across Canada, and ways to support families of the missing and murdered. If anyone would like our materials or have questions please email them to [email protected]
CM: Any last words?
I think it is so important to celebrate the strength and resistance of women and Aboriginal women in particular, who’ve been actively resisting injustice, violence, and fighting on behalf of their families and communities since settlers landed here. There can be so much positive power that can come from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people taking up space (including cyberspace) to demand a better present and future for all of Mother Earth’s inhabitants. The movement for/on behalf of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls is connected to many other global struggles.
Looking to the future: Families of Sisters in Spirit along with our amazing allies at Amnesty, KAIROS, the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement of Ottawa (IPSMO), Project of Heart, and POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist) (and more to come) are planning several upcoming events, including hosting Walk4Justice when they arrive in Ottawa from Vancouver on September 19, 2011, as well as a fundraiser, feast, panels, and film night. There is still so much work to do but Families of SIS continues to grow! Please stay tuned for updates on our facebook group. Thanks for this opportunity to get the word out!
End of the interview.
Cendrine Marrouat may be contacted for potential interviews, reviews and general enquiries at [email protected]
Official website: http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com