Communities unite to reclaim the Highway of Tears

Communities unite to reclaim the Highway of Tears

TERRACE, British Columbia — A killing ground became sacred space, as
communities along Highway 16 gathered recently to celebrate the lives and
deplore the deaths or disappearances of 32 women and girls — 31 of them
Native — during the 1990s.

These largely uninvestigated, unsolved crimes took place on a 500-mile
stretch of the road that threads its way through the lush rainforest and
glorious mountains of western Canada. The route eventually became known as
the Highway of Tears — more a place of horror than one of beauty.

Kathy Wesley, Nisga’a Nation, a counselor at Ksan House, a social-services
organization and women’s shelter in Terrace, coordinated the event. Called
“Take Back the Highway,” the idea was inspired by Take Back the Night, an
international demonstration against sexism and violence that takes place
each September.

In each of many towns along the route, hundreds of men, women and children
— Native and non-Native — prayed, sang, danced and marched. “A butterfly
suggestion became a tidal wave,” said Grainne Barthe, of Hope Haven
Transition House, a women’s shelter in Prince Rupert. The First Nations and
Bands represented included Tsimshian, Kitsumkalum, Stellat’en, Cheslatta,
Hagwilget, Nak’azdli, Tsay Keh Dene, Lake Babine, Sai’Kuz and Nad’leh.

Beverley Jacobs, Mohawk, president of the Native Women’s Association of
Canada, appeared on behalf of her organization, which has worked hard over
the past few years to bring attention to the issue of rampant violence and
discrimination against indigenous women in Canada. “I am honored to know
such powerful and strong people,” Jacobs said of the marchers.

“I saw the sister and niece of Ramona Wilson [who went missing at age 15]
holding tightly onto each other,” said Shelby Raymond, spokesman for
Terrace Amnesty International Action Circle, one of many national and local
organizations that participated in the event. “I realized this was a deeply
needed statement, a moment to control one small section of highway, a
moment to say we will remember every precious young woman who disappeared.
A community was born on our march.”

In Hazelton, there was not a dry eye as family members remembered their
missing sisters, daughters and mothers, reported Jim McAfee, an alcohol and
drug counselor with the Hagwilget Village Health Team. “Lucy Glaim spoke on
behalf of the family of Delphine Nikal [who also disappeared while in her
mid-teens]. The theme was reiterated that the families are still grieving
and that it is healing to have the support of an event such as this,” said
McAfee. “The deaths and disappearances affect us all in so many ways.”

Those who had experienced repression, sexism and violence spoke of feeling
empowered. Participant Sherrice Lucier recalled her impressions of the day:
“Walking along that path was so symbolic for me. I was taking it back.
Words cannot explain what I felt [while] walking with all you courageous
women. So I will simply say, ‘Thank you.'”

To find out more about NWAC’s efforts to stop violence against indigenous
women, go to nwac-hq.org or sistersinspirit.ca or visit
hwy16.dsrhome.com/gallery/terrace2005 for a slideshow.

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