This past week members of the Breaking Ground: Women, Oil & Climate Change delegation somberly traveled a 724km stretch of British Columbia’s Highway 16. The highway runs between Prince George and Prince Rupert and is commonly known as the Highway of Tears.
Reports say that anywhere from 18-43 women have gone missing or been found murdered along this stretch of highway over the past several decades. Nearly all of the women reported missing or found murdered along the Highway of Tears have been Indigenous women. As a result, a culture of fear and frustration has set in among residents of the local communities.
“We’re talking about so many layers of violence, so many generations of loss, and it’s all covered up in layers of silence… In order for us to move ahead, we have to deal with all the things people don’t want to talk about. We need to learn from the lives that have been lost. We need to turn things around,” said Beverley Jacobs, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) in 2009.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has launched an investigation – Project E-PANA – into the cases of missing and murdered women along the Highway of Tears. They are investigating 18 cases, but local Indigenous organizations have reported that the murdered and missing women could number more than 50. Progress on the investigation has been limited.
Numerous women’s organizations all over Canada have spoken out in solidarity and are calling for more of the cases to be investigated and for the reports of missing aboriginal women to be taken seriously. The culture of fear, silence and impunity must end.
Inspired by Take Back the Night events, in September 2005, Take Back the Highway events were held in many of the communities along the Highway of Tears. The event served to show solidarity, to commemorate the victims and to condemn the lack of response to these cases.
On October 4, 2012, Sisters-in-Spirit vigils took place across Canada to raise awareness of violence against aboriginal women and to honour the lives of the missing and murdered. The Sisters-in-Spirit campaign was launched by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) in 2004. The campaign lost its funding in 2010, but Sisters-in-Spirit vigils continue to be held annually by the NWAC with the support of other organizations.
Sisters in Spirit Vigils, Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and violence against indigenous women in Canada, Amnesty International, 3 October 2004.
Hundreds of tips after Highway of Tears plea, News 1130, 9 October 2012.
Heartbreaking – Missing women video collection, The Vancouver Sun, 25 September 2012.
Finding Dawn, National Film Board of Canada.