Highway of Tears monument to MMIWG a symbol of honour and hope, advocates say

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Friends and family members honoured their loved ones on Sept. 11, as a monument honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was erected on the Highway of Tears. (Kate Partridge/CBC - image credit)
Friends and family members honoured their loved ones on Sept. 11, as a monument honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was erected on the Highway of Tears. (Kate Partridge/CBC - image credit)

A monument honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) has been erected along the northern B.C. road where many have disappeared.

On Sunday, dozens of family, friends and supporters gathered on the side of Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, for the unveiling.

Brenda Wilson-John, whose sister Ramona's body was found in 1995 near Smithers, B.C., was one of those in attendance.

"Most important of all is that we have a place that recognizes the grief and honours the women, of the lives that are lost," said Wilson-John, who helped organize the event.

"They left this world and … that was not their choice. They wanted to be here. They still had goals, and they still had dreams that they're unable to finish."

Kate Partridge/CBC
Kate Partridge/CBC

She said loved ones gathered at the monument to support one another and help lift each other up.

"There are so many families going through this same situation."

Thousands of Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered in Canada, many of whose cases were not properly investigated by police.

According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in 10 Indigenous women were victims of a violent crime in 2019, and from 2015 to 2020, the average homicide rate involving Indigenous victims was six times higher than that of non-Indigenous people.

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

A national inquiry into MMIWG began in 2016, which Wilson-John contributed to.

The final report, released three years later, included more than 200 calls to justice. However, advocates have said they're frustrated by the lack of progress since, including calls for justice that relate to setting up accountability mechanisms and better tracking of data.

The monument, a silhouetted dancer in front of a large red dress, entitled The Journey of Hope, was a project initiated by the Prince George Red Dress Society.

"I'm feeling so incredibly blessed that my heart is so full, that I am able to be a part of something bigger than myself," said Tammy Meise, board president and founder of the Prince George chapter of the society.

"To take something, a situation that is so horrific and make something positive out of it for so many people."

Red dresses became a symbol of MMIWG after Métis artist Jaime Black started hanging them as a way to draw attention to the issue. Red Dress Day, which lands on May 5 each year, has become a national day of remembrance for those individuals and a reminder that violence against Indigenous women and girls remains.

Meise said she plans to visit the monument regularly to honour the women but also to feel a sense of hope.

"Things are changing. Unfortunately, we still have women going missing. It's not going away, but hopefully, educating people and being a part of that systematic change brings awareness. And when you have that awareness, hopefully, it brings safety."