MMIWG families on the highway of tears want more involvement in national events


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MMIWG families on the highway of tears want more involvement in national events's Profile

People will be marching in Terrace, B.C., Tuesday to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as the Assembly of First Nations (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 hitch a ride outside Prince Rupert. 

Radek said she isn’t aware of anyone from the area who was asked to attend the AFN gathering in Vancouver. 

“It really bothers a lot of our families because they’re never invited to certain functions,” said Radek, who is Wet’suwet’en and lives in Terrace.

“If they’re discussing our cases, why can’t we be involved?” 

Gladys Radek says families from northern B.C. need to be more involved in national events. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

CBC News reached out to AFN for an interview but no one was available by deadline. An AFN spokesperson said ina statement that invites to the gathering were sent through its website and social media channels and regional organizations were aware of the event. 

Virtual sessions for the gathering are also being held on Zoom for those who cannot attend in person. 

About eight hours before the gathering in Vancouver started, the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations put out a news release welcoming families from across Canada to the gathering. 

In the release, Regional B.C. 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 the B.C. regional chief’s office for an interview but did not hear back by deadline. It is unclear what efforts were made by the office to bring families from northern B.C. to the event.

Radek said families from northern B.C. should have a voice at the gathering, because they know the changes needed to make their own communities safer.

“You can’t leave the families out and make decisions on our behalf,” said Radek. 

Registration for the AFN MMIWG gathering opens Tuesday at 5 p.m. PST; the event ends on Thursday.

Northern B.C. families looking for information

Sheriden Martin, who lives in Hazelton, B.C., about 200 kilometres northeast from Prince Rupert along Highway 16, said she would have gone to the AFN gathering if she had known more about it. 

Martin’s sister, Cynthia Martin, went missing in 2018 from New Hazelton. Last August, RCMP confirmed human remains found in May had been identified as Cynthia’s. 

“I think I had heard trickles about [the AFN gathering], but I never knew the exact date and I couldn’t find information on it,” said Martin. 

Martin said MMIWG families in her area usually aren’t aware of these events in southern urban centres, despite the fact she feels most supported when she’s gathered with others who understand her situation. 

“It is healing to sit with other families that have been through this,” said Martin. 

A missing person handout photo provided by RCMP shows a middle-aged Indigenous woman with grey streaks in her hair. She is wearing a black shirt and smiling at the camera.
Cynthia Martin, 50, was last seen in New Hazelton, B.C., on Dec. 23, 2018. Her remains were discovered on May 1, 2022. (Submitted by B.C. RCMP)

She said she wants a national website for MMIWG families to connect, where all the information about gatherings like this week’s in Vancouver are stored in one place.

Garry Brown in Port Edward, B.C., near Prince Rupert, also didn’t know about the event. 

In 2004 Brown lost his granddaughter Kayla-Rose McKay, who he and his wife had raised. McKay was 13 when she was found dead in Prince Rupert.

Brown said McKay left to meet up with friends one Wednesday evening and never returned home. On Friday night RCMP came to Brown’s door saying McKay’s body had been found. 

He said her death was ruled alcohol poisoning but he never knew his daughter to drink. 

“To this day, we don’t believe it,” said Brown.

Brown wants her case to be reopened. 

People in Prince Rupert plan to hold an MMIWG march on April 14, where Brown and families will call for the reopening of their loved ones’ cases. 

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