On Feb. 14, a crowd of 30 people gathered outside the intersection of Eby Street and Highway 16 with a sombre mission to honor the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Canada and the Skeena Valley area.
The organized walk joined other Valentines Day Memorial Walks taking place nationwide, including Smithers, Prince George and Vancouver, B.C.
Participants, including Mayor Carol Leclerc and RCMP First Nations policing Cst. Angela Rabut, filed in at 4:30 p.m. from the parking lot outside the Chill Soda Shop before starting the 4.4-kilometre walk to the Tempo Gas Station.
Together they huddled around Gladys Radek, who after 13 years, still has no answers about the disappearance of her 22-year old niece Tamara Chipman. Chipman, who was a mother to a young toddler, disappeared just outside of Prince Rupert in Sept. 2005.
Elder Louisa Gray, 70, began the march with a prayer before Radek made an announcement.
“Tragedy happened in Saskatchewan last week, so we want to honor and remember the lives of both men and women this year,” Radek said, referring to the controversial decision made in the Gerald Stanley case days before.
On Feb. 9, an all-white jury in Saskatchewan found Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder charges in the death of 22-year old Colten Boushie, sparking protests across the country. Boushie was shot and killed after he and four others from Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley’s rural property in August 2016.
A laminated sign with Boushie’s cheeky smile joined 30 other signs brought by Radek, each depicting a missing or murdered person whose case remains unsolved.
“Take a picture with you,” Radek said before the walk started. “Remember their names, remember who they were.”
Radek’s activism surrounding violence against Indigenous women has spanned years. She co-founded Walk 4 Justice, a campaign to raise awareness and seek answers for the unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
A special RCMP unit linked 18 cases from 1969 to 2006 to a 724-kilometre stretch of Hwy 16 and two connecting arteries. Community activists and Indigenous leaders say over 40 women have gone missing since 1970 between Prince George and Prince Rupert. Almost all of the cases remain unsolved.
“It’s hard to talk about people going missing and it’s hard to engage the public, but it’s something that affects all of us,” said Adrianne Davidson, program coordinator at the Women’s Resource Centre.
Davidson, who helped organize this year’s walk, said she would like to see a permanent memorial built for the missing and murdered women and girls of the Skeena Valley.
“I’m shocked there isn’t already something there,” Davidson said. “It’s tragic that we have to be reminded, but it’s important to have a place of remembrance.”
The growing list of missing people was on 11-year old Angel Radek’s mind while she walked.
Because of the violence, she never got a chance to meet her aunt Tamara.
“Sometimes I wonder what my Auntie would be like if she was still alive,” Angel said as she walked beside her mother, 28-year old Sarah Radek. “So many people are going missing, and it needs to stop.”
Felix Grant, 26, came to the walk to honor his friend Lester Sampson, a 57-year old man who disappeared in 2015.
He also wore a picture around his neck of 18-year old Virginia Sampere, who he said he believes may have been part of his family before she went missing in Oct. 1971.
“It’s hard for me to find the words,” Grant said. “It’s a lot.”
The RCMP estimated that around 1,200 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada between 1980 to 2012, but Canada’s Minister of Status of Women suggested the number could be as high as 4,000.