Unmask the silence is a campaign that intends to raise awareness about the fact that the number of Aboriginal women going missing and being murdered is much higher than that of other women in Canada. The campaign was launched by Peterborough’s STRUTT Central modelling company.
The campaign constitutes a photographic essay inclusive of ten potent pictures featuring girls from the Cree Nation of Wemindji holding artisanal butterfly masks and serves as a voice to illustrate the statistics on this ignored crisis.
Founder of STRUTT Central, Christina Abbot, was the one who facilitated the campaign. She said, “I am glad it didn’t fall upon deaf ears. It had amazing social media response, people were sharing and actually caring – that’s the best thing a campaign can do.” She added that thousands of people read those statistics and are now no longer ignorant on the situation. So, next time the case comes they can be more adequately prepared to respond to the situation.
“I am proud of the girls because it was a big step for them to be the face of the campaign, because lot of attention got drawn to their image,” she said. “They stood up for themselves and for the community.”
Mickey Decarlo, who serves as the Mental Health Worker at the Cree nation of Wemindji, said, “I wanted to bring awareness to the girls of the community on the details and magnitude of this issue with the First Nations women.”
Decarlo and the girls were the ones who brought the idea of a campaign with the butterfly concept. Meanwhile, Abbot put it all together and gave it life.
The significance of using the butterfly is that it is national symbol to honour the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Furthermore it also represents the individual beauty of each woman. Abbot explained the butterfly mask being removed in the images is symbolic of unmasking the cold hard facts on this issue that everyone needs to face together.
Decarlo commented that sometimes the portrayal of the missing and murdered women is not that attractive, not that the women aren’t attractive, but simply in consequence of the setting.
With the campaign, it was presented that the girls are beautiful, and it’s striking, it’s powerful, and it makes one want read the caption.
Decarlo also painted the severity of the situation by sharing with Arthur the conversation she had with one of the young girls from the community, who had asked her, “Do you think the government is supporting this and is a part of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women because they don’t want there to be any Aboriginal women in the world?”
“I wondered about the kind of understanding they must have to come up with a thought like that, and to be able to articulate this about the situation, and to actually think that there could be a greater power facilitating this,” says Decarlo.
Further, she also pointed out some reasons as to why Native women go missing, and are being murdered at a rate much higher than other women in Canada–which is currently at over a thousand cases.
Such a demographic can be more vulnerable when they go to big cities, marginalized for one reason or another, or targeted because of racism, she added.
Furthermore, statistics show that Aboriginal women are murdered by people that they don’t know, whereas in cases where other women are murdered, it is more often by someone they do know, she pointed out.
Abbot said that Aboriginal women are also less likely to report any violence against them. It is a strong fact that there is more abuse that happens in their community. They witness so much that if they get abused in a larger city, they don’t report it as often because it has become almost a normalcy, she reasoned.
There is legacy in history, connected to the history of First Nations people in Canada, the legacy of residential schools, and a generation of abuse, added Decarlo.
“Every person has a homeland, and this is our homeland. And to have such a risk for people to be murdered and missing, to commit suicide, to end up in prison, to not finish school, to be be in foster care, of which all of these are high in statistics–there is something wrong and it needs to be righted,” stated Decarlo.
“I encourage more people to open their eyes and actually start to care about this issue in Canada,” stated Abbot. “It is your duty as a Canadian to care about it.”