Families walk Highway of Tears to honour missing, murdered Indigenous women

The annual journey will span five days this year and cover 350 kilometres between Prince Rupert and Smithers

When Gladys Radek walks the Highway of Tears, she says she can feel the spirits of women who are missing or have been murdered walking beside her.

Dozens have vanished or been killed along the notorious stretch of Highway 16 in central B.C.. On Thursday, Radek will honour the 12th anniversary of the disappearance of her niece, Tamara Lynn Chipman, by walking the route once again.

“You can feel the pain of the families when they’re walking with you,” she said. “It’s really, really hard to describe.”

The annual journey, made by Radek and others who have lost loved ones, will span five days this year and cover 350 kilometres between Prince Rupert and Smithers. Vehicles will accompany the walkers who will cover sections of the route in a relay fashion.

Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are set to join the walk on Sept. 25 before community hearings are held from Sept. 26 to 28 in Smithers. This is the second set of hearings held to date by the inquiry, after it visited Whitehorse in May.

Since then, the inquiry’s executive director, Michele Moreau, and one of its commissioners, Marilyn Poitras, have quit and the Native Women’s Association of Ontario has pulled its support. The inquiry has faced growing calls for resignations and a restart.

Asked whether commissioners feel added pressure to ensure these hearings are successful, Chief Commissioner Marion Buller said they feel that obligation regardless.

“They have to be (successful), not only for our purposes, but more so for the families who come forward and share their stories with us. It’s the success from their perspective that’s the most important aspect for us,” she said.

“We’re always under scrutiny. Always. And we always will be,” she added. “I’m always open to constructive, informed criticism, as are the other commissioners. It’s part of our work.”

The federal government launched the inquiry last year to examine the systemic issues behind the high number of Indigenous women who have been killed or disappeared over the last four decades in Canada. It is expected to take two years and cost almost $54 million.

READ MORE: Highway of Tears bus starts rolling on 30-minute trips on Hwy. 16

VIDEO: Take back the highway

Buller said the commission will ask for more money and time but it is still conducting an internal analysis before making the request.

About 25 people, including family members and survivors of violence, are expected to testify publicly or privately at the Dze L K’Ant Friendship Centre next week. A statement-taker will be available for anyone who wishes to speak, with no pre-registration needed, said Buller.

Radek will testify about Chipman, who disappeared while hitchhiking in Prince Rupert on Sept. 21, 2005. The 22-year-old was a beautiful, charming free spirit who had a young son, she recalled.

Critics of the inquiry don’t understand how much ground it has to cover, said Radek, who sits on its national family advisory circle.

“It’s not as simple as two years of work. These people, these commissioners and the staff that they have working right now, they are uncovering the stones that should have been turned a long time ago,” she said.

People living along the Highway of Tears had to wait years for the provincial government to carry out a key recommendation of the B.C. inquiry into missing and murdered women, said Terry Tegee, tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.

The recommendation — reliable public transit along the route — was finally implemented earlier this year. But the experience has led Teegee to call for the federal inquiry to have more teeth. Like the missing inquiry in B.C., the recommendations from the national inquiry will be non-binding.

Teegee also said he’s concerned that people in small communities that still lack transit won’t be able to participate in the Smithers hearings.

Buller said staff have visited nearby towns in recent weeks to reach out to families and it is able to help cover travel costs including mileage and meals, she said.

The hearings will be the first of nine this fall, with other stops in Winnipeg, Halifax, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Sask., Maliotenam, Que., Thunder Bay, Ont., and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Four North Okanagan students receive scholarship

Transferring from one post-secondary institution to another is no easy, or inexpensive, task

Snowfall warning between Merritt and Hope

As much as 20 centimteres of the white stuff is expected along a stretch of the Coquhialla

Gallery celebrates long history of art appreciation

Gallery Odin, at Silver Star Mountain, is gearing up to open their 16th annual Winter Exhibition

Traffic stopped on Highway 97B due to crash

The incident took place south of Mellors Store.

Comedian/magician visiting Lake Country

Wes Barker is performing at Creekside Theatre, Nov. 25

Drones used in search for clues about missing women

A volunteer search party was supported by professional drone operators

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates debate different paths for party

Third debate held Sunday, Nov. 19 at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Vernon poet makes poetry prize shortlist

He’s been involved with the craft since the ’70s, gaining recognition along the way

Studio e is all about excitement and energy

Vernon studio hosts open house with concert, paintings, wine and cheese

LIVE: BC Liberals kick off leadership debate in Nanaimo

Candidates’ forum is at noon at Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Panthers advance; Maroons fall to Dukes

The Vernon Panthers are moving to the B.C. Subway Bowl semifinals, while the Fulton Maroons are done

WATCH: Thousands gathering in Abbotsford for Const. John Davidson funeral procession

Celebration of life to follow at Abbotsford Centre at 1 p.m.

Back-to-back wins for the Vees this weekend

Penticton Vees take down Capitals 10-1

Start on time: Canucks looking to shake first-period struggles

Canucks centre Bo Horvat said the formula for getting a leg up is there for everyone to see

Most Read