Although some wore red in traditional recognition of Valentine’s Day, many took on this colour instead to remember the blood of those women lost to the Highway of Tears.
On Feb. 14, almost 100 people set aside their mornings to join the third annual Women’s Memorial March in Terrace to reflect on the missing and murdered.
Gathering in front of the local RCMP detachment as participants drummed and smudged sage, the ceremony began by naming all the women who never returned home. Family members and friends stood by with photos of their loved ones gone, supported by members of the community to help carry their pain.
“We had good energy today because we came together out of love for each of the family members that are affected and that is the purpose of this march, to commemorate those who have been lost and are missing,” says Jolene Wesley, program director for Kermode Friendship Society.
“I hope it brings more awareness, that people start caring about seeing people out on the highway who are putting themselves in risky situations or just generally watching out and caring for each other… As we begin to speed up in our own personal lives, we start to not pay attention to each other as much as we possibly could be doing.”
The march on Feb. 14 is recognized across the country to raise awareness and provide prayers for the families whose loved ones are still missing or who have lost their lives to violence. Highway 16, which is commonly referred to as the Highway of Tears, is where advocates believe up to 100 women over 50 years have gone missing or were found murdered.
Overall, the RCMP estimates that around 1,200 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing across Canada between 1980 to 2012, but Canada’s Minister of Status of Women suggested the number could be as high as 4,000.
Wesley says this is the largest showing of participants they have had since the annual march initiated in Terrace three years ago and says RCMP officers were invited to attend. Many police members stood amongst the crowd.
After their opening speeches and songs followed by a moment of silence at the totem pole by the detachment, the march embarked down Lakelse Ave. to conclude at the Kermode Friendship Centre on Park Street.
Surrounding the front entrance of the building, community members stood on the steps to share their stories and memories of MMIGW, demanding that it’s time for a change before yet another name is added to the list.
The sounds of drums roared louder as some participants joined in the healing songs in tears, which Wesley says was a powerful moment for everyone — emphasizing that the heartache of these women and girls gone can be felt by all. She adds that although it was emotional, it was also an ode to their heritage and strength to help them ease their pain.
“It’s part of bringing our culture back, the drumming is grounding… these are the songs that our ancestors sang. It’s where we came from, as Indigenous people that are connected to the Earth so there is a lot of sacredness behind this all,” she explains.
“We don’t just do things because we feel like it. There’s always a story, a journey that led up to that event or that that creation of the song.”
For Kermode Friendship Society’s outreach worker Stephanie Louie, the march brought a lot of hope and empowerment to those who were there.
She says that red is also an important colour to many First Nations in the area and that when it’s worn, it draws in their ancestors to help them carry on.
“I believe that’s where our energy came from today, is from those who came before us, giving us the strength to sing and march,” says Louie, adding the march transitioned into a healing circle afterwards at the centre.
“Intergenerational trauma is also deep-rooted within our community and many have incredibly powerful stories of survival but are still learning to find their voice in how to express themselves in society.”
Louie says it’s an important time in Terrace for everyone to come together. With many growing pains to come as industry rumbles into the region, Louie hopes that people are reminded that a community exists for them when they need to reach out.
“With the hustle and bustle happening here… quite often people forget about the hurts, the traumas and the pain that still happen here,” she says.
“We need to bridge these gaps in society. It’s important for us to all come together and realize that we are all the same, that we all bleed the same color, hurt and grieve the same. To be able to come together from all walks of life and rising above that is what we need to do to move forward, and I hope in the coming years that this march can accomplish just that.”