The first annual Tears to Hope Relay Run is taking place this weekend to commemorate the lives taken and affected by the Highway of Tears.
Beginning June 21, teams are running simultaneously from Prince Rupert and Smithers along Hwy 16 to congregate in Terrace on June 22 where a ceremony will then be held.
“We want people to believe in our cause and not see it as just another running event. We’re inviting people to be allies,” says organizer Lorna Brown. “We want to make a change and we’ve invited people from all walks of life and all nations to run with us.”
The relay includes family, friends and community members of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), carrying a deerskin scroll inscribed with a “Message of Hope”. The event is intended to mirror the First Nations’ traditional way of passing messages on between villages using runners.
Over 50 relay participants are taking part, who are each wearing blue and running 10 km to meet another runner waiting to take the scroll and continue the journey. The 10km markers are represented with photos of women that disappeared along the highway.
“It kind of just puts a real face to the women that have truly been affected on this highway,” says Brown. “We’ve heard so many horrific stories and our family has personally been affected by it.”
Brown’s niece disappeared in 2005 and says it’s been difficult for her family to cope with it ever since. She says she wants the nation to acknowledge there is still pain that needs to be addressed in order to start moving forward.
“I think the whole murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls issue is something that we hear a lot about it in the news, but until you actually sit down and hear stories from people who have been affected, you don’t truly understand,” she says.
The newly formed Tears to Hope Society’s mission statement is to create healthy, safe communities for First Nations’ females and to remind everybody that “she is somebody” to end any violence against women.
Earlier this month, Brown was a part of the advocacy group that spoke on behalf of the National Inquiry of the Missing Women in front of parliament in Ottawa. She says they want to continue bringing awareness to the lives lost on the highway to the Prime Minister and let families know they are not alone in their grieving.
Brown says they would like for this run to become a national event, similar to the Terry Fox Run, where communities across the country will organize their own events to remember the MMIWG.
Organizing the run, she says it’s been encouraging to see how supportive people to make the relay possible. An RCMP officer and the mayor of Smithers, Taylor Bachrach, will also be running to pass on their message of hope.
“I’m really excited to see so many people, we’ve had a really great response from the community. We have had response from all over the Northwest,” Brown says. “The fact that local government have stepped up to the plate [with the] RCMP, it kind of gives you hope for the future. And that’s exactly what we want to accomplish.”
Runners will be on the road until dark of the first day and commence at dawn on the next. The finish line will be at the Millennium Trail parking lot in Terrace and relay participants are expected to cross at approximately 1:30 p.m. on June 22.
Following the run, a march will proceed to George Little Park where the Indigenous Peoples Day events are taking place.