Voices for Human Rights: Shantel Watson, National Organizer

Following my experience in high school as a member of a human rights initiative created to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, I knew that I wanted to further my dedication to human rights advocacy and activism, and that Amnesty International would provide me with a credible platform to accomplish this.

Since joining Amnesty International, my human rights focus has expanded to include efforts supporting the work of Earth and Land Defenders in Latin America and Canada. As a member of the Amnesty International Toronto Business&Human Rights and Indigenous Rights Specialized Team, I have been involved in the organization of various events such as a screening of the short documentary “Uprivers” which highlighted the environmental and social impacts of the Mount Polley Mining Disaster in British Colombia. We also organized the “Indigenous Issues Are Election Issues” event in 2019, where individuals from the GTA were invited to write letters to federal election candidates, urging them to make the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a priority if elected.

Since joining the National Organizers Program of AI Canada, I have been supported in my own endeavors.  In 2019, I partnered with my alma-mater to educate high school students about the significance of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This action – supported and inspired by the Red Feather Project- is an art-based initiative created by digital arts and photography instructor Heather Reid, to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. I worked with members of the Red Feather Committee to ensure that this initiative was inclusive of members of the 2SLGBTQQIA community. We invited Laureen-Blu Waters, a grandmother elder advisor to the National Inquiry to join us in a discussion panel at Cardinal Leger Secondary School in Brampton. The panel taught students about the history of colonialism and how it has informed gender and racial based discrimination and violence against Indigenous peoples. On the National Day of Action for MMIWG on October 4th, we had two-spirit Ojibway performer Neenokasi, also referred to as Hummingbird, share their talents and knowledge with us during a vigil which was held for students and members of the public to attend.

Recently, I was chosen to represent Amnesty International Canada as the only youth member of the Canadian English-speaking delegation to this year’s Global Assembly. This is an incredible honour for me, and a role that I remain committed to through intense preparation leading up to the Assembly this summer.

Following the completion of my undergraduate degree in International Relations, it is my intention to study international human rights law, after which I hope to not only practice law, but to also specialize in human rights and anti-corruption investigative research.

Being involved with Amnesty has helped me to craft my career path and to fulfill what I believe to be one of my key purposes in life. From fundamental skill building to networking and mentorship, this organization has provided me with all of the critical tools that I have needed to be successful in my human rights activism and advocacy.

Photos credit @Vivian Li