A warm welcome was in place on Thursday for a group of First Nations walkers who made their way from Norway House and Winnipeg, Man., across Saskatchewan and Alberta to Williams Lake en route to Prince Rupert.
The walk is for missing and murdered Aboriginal women and men: raising awareness and calling for justice.
The group of six walkers and two patrol vehicles stopped at the Chief Will-Yum gas station and were greeted with food, drumming and singing and a chance to share their stories.
Chief Ann Louie of the Williams Lake Indian Band housed them for the night and fed them breakfast before seeing them on the way to Quesnel.
Leaders and members of the Alkali Lake, Canim Lake, Williams Lake, Canoe Creek, Soda Creek and Chilcotin Indian Bands participated in the event, and fuel for their vehicles was provided by the Chief Will-Yum gas station.
Walkers from Norway House started in late July, and after being joined by other walkers in Winnipeg, headed across western Canada on Aug. 3.
“The reason behind this walk is very personal to me, and to many of us here — we have lost family members to murder,” Chief Louie said.
“We have murders and people gone missing that remain unsolved — people from Bella Coola, Williams Lake Indian Band, Soda Creek and Alkali Lake and more.
“They estimate 1,800 murdered and missing woman, but there are also many missing men,” Louie said.
“We have cousins, sons and fathers murdered and missing — some resolved and some not.
“The Williams Lake Indian Band still has one missing person, Willie Peters, who went missing as an elder and nobody knows what happened.”
Walk participant Vince Keesic from Red Lake Ontario said that organizer Brenda Osborne is a friend of his mother.
“I overheard them one night talking about this and heard my mom say that, unfortunately, she couldn’t attend so I decided that I would do it for her,” Keesic said.
“My sister was murdered in 2001 and in 2012 my father was murdered. I’m walking for my sister, my father and all the others.”
Keesie said they faced some challenges along the way. “In Saskatchewan we had two days of pouring rain, and in Jasper it was pretty cold camping.
“Some drivers honk and wave and give us space for safety, and some don’t,” Keesie said.
“We have some drivers who just speed by and make it quite scary. Most places where we go, people have been nice, but in B.C. people have been great and we’ve had lots of support,” he said. “My mom is so proud that I did this walk.”
Althea Guivoche from Winnipeg, Man. is an advocator for the homeless, and started working for the murdered and missing.
“My friend and I started the ‘angry butterfly’ project in Winnipeg,” Guivoche said. “We’re tired of being nice, tired of asking, ‘Please, can we live?’
“I’m all about awareness and justice and indifference toward the missing and murdered. That’s why I’m on this walk,” Guivoche said.
She is one of two walkers on crutches.
“While jogging on the highway in Alberta, a very windy day, a semi-truck roared by and didn’t pull over,” Guivoche said. “I was carrying my big Manitoba flag and he gusted me off the incline; I twisted my foot and broke off a piece of bone in my ankle. They told me I couldn’t walk for two or three weeks. But here I am.”
Brenda Osborne organized the walk and started from Norway House, Man.
“We do walks in Manitoba all the time, but this is the longest I’ve done,” Osborne said.
“We’ve done 80-140km a day,” Osborne explained. “We are not athletes; we are just parents who love our kids.”
Her brother, who did the walk with her from Norway House, was also blown off the side of the road by a semi-truck and is on crutches with a twisted knee.
She said that walking for the missing and murdered is close to her and her family, stating that they lost a beloved cousin.
“Still today I still wait for her to come home: she used to babysit me,” Osborne said. “ I also lost an aunt and uncle and another cousin, and closer still is my daughter who went missing in 2008.”
Chief Louie said that people dying tragically is bad enough, but to have no answers is worse.
“It’s really tough. I also have a cousin who went missing on the lake and was never found,” Louie said. “You can’t find closure. The silence that occurs with that kind of thing is the worst. I always say, ‘What if it’s your family?’
“I’m honoured and proud to receive these people in our community,” Louie said.
“They’ve made great sacrifices, and given great work and effort to this cause. It’s very meaningful what they’re doing.”