On September 21, 2017 a team from Battered Women’s Support Services headed north to Prince Rupert, Tsimshian Territory, BC from Vancouver Coast Salish Territories. A 350-kilometre journey from Prince Rupert to Smithers, Wet’suwet’en Territory, BC on the, Highway of Tears, where the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls hearings began on September 26, 2017. The team includes women from the Indigenous Women’s Program (IWP) at BWSS, Terriea Harris, the manager of the IWP, Indigenous Women’s Support Worker, Summer Rain and Indigenous Women’s Counsellor, Lavita Trimble.  The women were joined by Rosa Elena Arteaga, manager of Direct Services and Clinical Practice at BWSS. The BWSS team united with the families and advocates, including women from our sister organization, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and Audrey Siegl, an independent activist from the unceded lands of the Musqueam, who has been active on grassroots environmental and social justice-political frontline movements.

The Justice for Tears is organized by Gladys Radek whose niece Tamara Lynn Chipman went missing on the highway 12 years ago.  There is much speculation on the exact number of women and girls who have disappeared on the Highway of Tears over the last 50 years, many people say that the number of missing women combined with the number of murdered women exceeds 50.

“We are so honoured to be able to take part in the 7th walk through the Highway of Tears to remember Tamara Lynn Chipman. This walk is not only to remember her life, but to remember and bring light to the horrific levels of violence Indigenous women and girls face every day”, said Summer Rain, Indigenous Women’s Support Worker at BWSS, “This is an opportunity as Indigenous women as family members and as survivors to reclaim space that for Indigenous women would be compromised or a risk to our safety”. BWSS is grateful to Skundaal Bernie Williams for the invitation to join the walk.

On the journey, Angela Marie MacDougall BWSS Executive Director, met up with the team in Moricetown, Wet’suwet’en Territory, BC where they walked together to Smithers and gathered at the Dze L K’Ant Friendship Centre Society. Inquiry commissioner Michele Audette also joined the group for most of the walk in solidarity and support and Tina House from APTN news provided important coverage.

The BWSS support team is a part of the official health team for the hearings in Smithers, Wet’suwet’en Territory, BC. Health support workers are on standby for needs of the women and families who are sharing their stories and statements to the Commissioners during the hearings. The team provides emotional support as well as cultural support and any other needs that are required.

Thus far, the government has been slow to act on other recommendations, such as those from the 2006 Highway of Tears symposium who did not release its recommendations until 2013 and the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in BC where virtually nothing has happened through those recommendations. These are reasons for much skepticism about the outcome of the inquiry however, there is also hope. “Many Indigenous women and girls feel desperate to flee violence and oppressive experiences in the North but their only way of leaving is the Highway of Tears. The perfect set up for predators”, said Terriea Harris, Manager, Indigenous Women’s Program at BWSS “The time is now for the Action and we hang on to the hope of what will come through the National Inquiry”.

(Skeena River at Moricetown, Wet’suwet’en Territory, BC – Photos and videos courtesy of Angela Marie MacDougall & Audrey Siegl, follow Audrey on Instagram for more photos)

The hearings will wrap today, September 28, 2017 with a family sharing circle in the evening. Look for more updates from our team members from the days and weeks to come.