MMIWG Families on the Highway of Tears Want More Participation in National Events
People will march in Terrace, BC on Tuesday to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as the First Nations Assembly (AFN) kicks off a two-day gathering in Vancouver to discuss a national MMIWG action plan.
But march organizer Gladys Radek said for the communities along Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, known as the Highway of Tears, the AFN’s national MMIWG2S+ gathering doesn’t mean much.
Radek’s niece Tamara Lynn Chipman disappeared in 2005. She was last seen trying to get a ride outside of Prince Rupert.
Radek said she doesn’t know of anyone in the area who has been asked to attend the AFN convention in Vancouver.
“It’s really upsetting to a lot of our families because they’re never invited to certain events,” said Radek, who is Wet’suwet’en and lives in Terrace.
“If they discuss our cases, why can’t we be there?”
CBC News contacted AFN for an interview, but no one was available as of the deadline. An AFN spokesman said in a statement that invitations to the gathering were sent out through its website and social media channels, and that regional organizations were aware of the event.
Virtual sessions for the gathering will also be held on Zoom for those unable to attend in person.
About eight hours before the Vancouver gathering began, the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations issued a press release inviting families from across Canada to attend the gathering.
In the press release, BC regional chief Terry Teegee said the gathering was an important opportunity to bring MMIWG families and survivors together for “mutual strength and support.”
CBC News also contacted BC’s regional chief’s office for an interview, but received no response by the deadline. It’s unclear what efforts the office made to get families from north BC to the event.
Radek said northern BC families should have a voice at the gathering because they understand the changes needed to make their own communities safer.
“You can’t leave the families out and make decisions for us,” said Radek.
Registration for the AFN MMIWG meeting opens Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. PST; the event ends on Thursday.
Northern BC families seek information
Sheriden Martin, who lives in Hazelton, BC, about 200 kilometers northeast of Prince Rupert on Highway 16, said she would have gone to the AFN convention had she known more about it.
Martin’s sister Cynthia Martin disappeared from New Hazelton in 2018. Last August, RCMP confirmed that human remains found in May had been identified as those of Cynthia.
“I think I heard trickle [the AFN gathering]but I never knew the exact date and couldn’t find any information about it,” Martin said.
Martin said MMIWG families in her area are typically unaware of these happenings in southern urban centers, although she feels most supported when she comes together with others who understand her situation.
“It’s healing to sit with other families who have been through this,” Martin said.
She said she would like a national website for MMIWG families to connect where all the information about gatherings like this week in Vancouver will be in one place.
Garry Brown in Port Edward, BC, near Prince Rupert, was also unaware of the event.
In 2004, Brown lost his granddaughter, Kayla-Rose McKay, whom he and his wife had raised. McKay was 13 when she was found dead at Prince Rupert.
Brown said McKay left to meet up with friends one Wednesday night and never returned home. On Friday night, RCMP came to Brown’s door and said McKay’s body had been found.
He said her death was ruled alcohol poisoning but he never knew his daughter was drinking.
“To this day we don’t believe it,” Brown said.
Brown wants her case reopened.
The people of Prince Rupert are planning to hold an MMIWG march on April 14 where Brown and his families will call for the cases of their loved ones to be resumed.