Hope may seem like a sleepy town, but it’s a sleepy town with highways running through it, and with reserves situated off the path of public transit, it could be a dangerous area for Indigenous women.
Women who use hitchhiking as a way to get to work, shops and people they know in larger centres.
“I worry about truckers picking up the women and then all of a sudden they’re gone. That’s what I worry about, seeing all the women on the highways,” said Sadie McPhee, support worker at the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
Margaret Peters, social development worker at Yale First Nation, said she always watches out for the girls she knows in this area who are homeless.
“If I don’t see them, it worries me. Where is she? Where’d she go? What was she wearing last? Where did I see her?” she said.
“Because if, God forbid something happened to her, somebody needs to know when and where she was last seen.”
Their fears are warranted as Indigenous women continue to go missing across B.C. It is something Peters sees every day.
“There’s just so many missing all the time that honestly, sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up,” she said.
“I get emails all the time with pictures of girls missing and it’s like ‘Another one? Another one. Another one.’”
MARCHING FOR THE MISSING
That is why Peters and McPhee, together with an organizing committee, are holding the second annual March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Men and Boys in Hope Saturday. The event was held for the first time in March last year, to give those who couldn’t attend the Women’s Memorial March in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver a chance to share their grief.
One member of the committee, Nikki Lamarre, passed away weeks after last year’s march: she will be remembered Saturday.
Raising awareness is an overused catchphrase, but for Peters marching and raising awareness about the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous people has very real consequences.
“Families need support, and they can’t have support if nobody knows about it,” she said.
Saturday is also a day of honouring and supporting grieving families, many of whom cannot find solace as their loved one remains missing.
“They still have that question. ‘Where is she?’ That will never go away, as long as they’re not found, that will never ever leave a family to find peace of mind,” Peters said.
MEN, BOYS AND THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY ALSO AT RISK
The effort to include men and boys was led by Cheam Chief Ernie Crey, who is personally affected by this violence. His older brother Gordon died a violent death in the community and he is not alone.
“I do have relatives that have been murdered, both men and women in our family that have been murdered,” said McPhee, adding men from reserves surrounding Hope have also been killed.
McPhee said many of the men — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — stand back when a march like this is held, thinking it is a space for the women.
“I think we need to invite them in,” she said. “The men are our protectors and so when we see the men there, we would feel more protected.”
The march also commemorates two-spirit and transgender people who have gone missing or been murdered.
Two-spirit, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, is a translation of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) term niizh manidoowag, which ‘refers to a person who embodies both a masculine and feminine spirit’. In modern usage, two-spirit is often used for and by Indigenous people in the LGBTQ community.
Peters and McPhee hope non-Indigenous residents also come Saturday, as some may also be suffering from similar grief.
“A lot of the non-Natives that show up, they know somebody who has gone missing themselves,” McPhee said. Peters added many cultures or races have loved ones missing.
AFTER THE MARCH IS OVER
The time between the annual march is starting to feel like too long for Peters and she’s working on ways to be proactive in helping search for those missing.
Indigenous leaders already work with communities who have people go missing, for example Yale chief and council who went to Enderby when a missing person was reported.
These delegations can act as a pressure tool for police, Peters said, who in the past have been widely criticized by media and Indigenous groups for not working missing persons cases from Indigenous women as diligently as possible.
The march will be held Saturday, May 5 starting in Memorial Park: 8 a.m. a banner will be signed and 10 a.m. the march starts.