For over 25 women, family members and supporters, this past weekend saw them walking almost 350 KM to bring awareness to their missing loved ones.
Wednesday night a loyal and faithful group of dedicated women set out to bring this issue right to the doorsteps on the Inquiry.
Meeting at Nisga’a Hall in Prince Rupert, women from all over the province and throughout Canada once again joined Gladys Radek for the beginning of what would be her seventh walk for her niece, Tamara Chipman, who was last seen outside Prince Rupert 12 years ago to the day.
Local supporters came to wish walkers hope and convey their gratitude to the women who set out to make sure their loved ones were not forgotten.
Arnie Sanki from the Friendship Centre coordinated the evening. Jill Robinson presented the group $600 on behalf of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and following some prayers and encouraging words, the group set off into the night to walk from Nisga’a Hall to the Industrial Park outside of town where Tamara was last seen and where their walk would begin the following morning.
8 AM the next morning the group was set to begin the long journey to the doors of the National Inquiry. The group was sent off with well wishes from Prince Rupert mayor Lee Brain, who says that the city of Prince Rupert is making strides to ensure that no more women go missing on the highway.
Prince Rupert is creating a hotline, which anyone can call if they are stranded, need assistance, fleeing from an abusive situation or just have no safe way to get home. The Transition House is working collaboratively on the program and has drivers available at a moment’s notice 24 hours a day to pick people up off the highway and get them where they need to go, and in some cases that include a ticket out of the area.
The walker’s first stop on the Highway of Tears was the memorial site of Alberta Williams, who went missing at the age of 24 in August of 1989 37 KM east of the city.
The first night of Tamara’s walk, walkers stayed at Kasiks Lodge, where there was a chef to prepare them a hearty dinner (3 different types of lasagna!) as well as a healthy breakfast to send them on their way into Kitsumkalum.
60 kilometres away, the community of Kitsumkalum awaited their arrival. They joined community members in the hall to share stories of their loved ones. Local First Nations members gathered to support the walkers and donated $542 to support their walk and Kitsumkalum Tempo Gas Bar gave the walkers a $700 gas card to pay for the fuel for their fleet of cars.
Students of Na Aksa Gyilak’yoo School in Kistumkalum performed dances and showcased the video they created last year to bring awareness to the Highway of Tears.
An additional walker joined the group in Kitsumkalum. Commissioner Michelle Audette said she had promised families that she would support them, and having lost her niece herself in Quebec, she echoed the heartbreak of the other women in the group.
Saturday, almost 30 women, family members, and supporters made the journey along the highway from Terrace to Kitwanga. The original plan was to stay in Kitwanga the night, but the community was in mourning so the walkers came back to Terrace before making the journey back from Kitwanga to Moricetown.
In Gitsegukla, the group abandoned their walk momentarily to show solidarity for an issue that they feel goes hand in hand with the one they are advocating for. Every Child Matters is a walk to raise awareness of the Residential School Legacy.
Wanda Good is one of the coordinators of the Every Child Matters walks, as well as one of the walkers on Tamara’s Walk. She said it was very important to them to join the walk.
Walkers were happy to go off course to walk with Every Child Matters. They walked with the organizers to the train tracks, where for many was the last place they saw their young children after being taken to residential schools where a number of those children never returned home.
Gladys Radek’s home is Moricetown, which was the next stop on the walk. The community set the walkers up in the ballpark to camp for the night before departing the next morning for Smithers.
With 24 hours until the beginning of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the drums became louder, the women stronger, and the pain more obvious.
Commissioner Audette continued throughout the weekend side by side with the walkers and they were joined by Chief Commissioner Marion Buller outside of Smithers for the final stretch of the journey. Hereditary Cheifs joined the walkers and the commissioners for the final stretch from the golf course in Smithers, down to Main Street and around to the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre.
35 families are registered to participate in the hearings tomorrow. Although this is the only stop slated for BC, Buller says in the new year the commission will be making another stop in the province and a number throughout the country.
Doors open at the Dza L K’ant Friendship Centre for the public hearings at 9 AM and will run until 5. The commission will be in town until Thursday and this time around they learned a few things from their last visit in Whitehorse.
This has been the seventh walk for Tamara, and to raise awareness of the other thousands of Indigenous women across the country who have gone missing or murdered. When Radek set out to bring awareness to the lost loved ones, she set out to do seven walks. She’s walked from coast to coast and to Parliment Hill, where they demanded a national inquiry. Now that inquiry has started, and Radek says this will be her final walk.