Sam Wall | News Editor
Tuesday, February 14th was a chilly day, with the sun easing towards the horizon by the 4pm start time for the Women’s Memorial March. The March occurs every year on Valentine’s Day to remember and seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women. This event is of particular importance in northern communities, as highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears, runs through the dense forest where many Indigenous women have gone missing or been found murdered. This year, about 100 people were in attendance to pay their respects, and share their time with various speakers at the Courthouse. The event culminated in performances at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre, after a march from the Courthouse.
The event began with an opening prayer and welcome to the Lheidli T’enneh territory by Darlene Macintosh. The Master of Ceremonies, Ken Solonas, directed the speakers, the first of which was Angelique Levac. Levac runs a specialty shop downtown called Angelique’s Native Arts, where she sells Indigenous clothing, jewelry, and birch bark art. Levac spoke about her experiences with losing someone to the Highway of Tears, as she lost her sister. She reminded us that we must not give up the fight for justice for these women. Next to speak was Brenda Wilson, the Highway of Tears Coordinator for Carrier-Sekani Family Services, who spoke about losing her sister Ramona Wilson in 1994. Since then Wilson has been an activist against the growing toll the Highway of Tears has taken on Northern communities. Though it has been a long time, and a lot of work, Wilson is happy to see changes happening, such as the first bus between Smithers and Moricetown. Implementing a bus system along highway 16 was recommended at the Highway of Tears Symposium in 2006.
Terry Teegee, Tribal Chief of the CarrierSekani Tribal Council, also spoke about Ramona, as she was his cousin, and others he has lost. He emphasized the need for better legislation around violence against women and girls. Laura Nordin, Executive Director of Surpassing Our Survival (SOS), an organization that provides support for survivors of sexual violence, spoke of the changes she has seen over the years, and how inspired she is by everyone working together on this problem. Cindy West from the Elizabeth Fry Society emphasized the importance of continuing this work, especially around raising awareness of the issues. Dawn Hemingway from Northern Fire/Women North Network also emphasized similar tenets of raising awareness and working together. The final speaker, Sarah Boyd from the Northern Women’s Centre at UNBC discussed political activism and the possibility of creating a physical memorial for the Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered.
With the speeches complete, the Khast’an Drummers led the crowd in a march to the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. With most of the 100-person audience arriving in a small hall, there was a close and comfortable atmosphere as elders, children, and everyone in between shared refreshments. The evening was wonderful and inspiring as Kym Gouchie, backed up by the Khast’an Drummers, performed several powerful songs of loss, love, and community.
The Women’s Memorial March originally began in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in Coast Salish Territories. It was founded on February 14th, 1992, when a Coast Salish woman was found murdered on Powell Street. The March is now in its 27th year of honoring vulnerable women who have been lost to all types of violence.