Stories and song: What was heard at the MMIWG community hearings in B.C.?

The second round of community hearings for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry was held in Smithers, B.C. this week.

Over the course of three days, families and survivors shared first-hand testimony about how they have been affected by the disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls. 

Here are some of those stories.

Walk pays tribute to missing women

Ahead of the hearings, 28 people set out to walk over 300 kilometres from Prince Rupert to Smithers along Highway 16. 

They walked to raise awareness about the number of women and girls who have been lost along the road that’s come to be known as The Highway of Tears.

Tears 4 Justice Walk 2017

Walkers in the ‘Tears 4 Justice’ complete their journey from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Smithers for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Inquiry skepticism

Gladys Radek, who lost her niece Tamara Chipman of Prince Rupert 12 years ago, has long advocated for a national inquiry into violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Still, she is skeptical about what the inquiry can accomplish in its tight timeline — a view echoed by others.

Stories of struggle shared

The first day of testimony included Vicki Hill, who lost her mother when Hill was just six months old, and Vivian Tom, whose daughter Destiny was killed in 2013.

Both spoke about how the loss affected them, from suicidal thoughts to substance abuse, and shared stories of wanting to do better for the children in their lives.

MMIW Inquiry Smithers 20170926

Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Vivian Tom wipes away tears while testifying about her late daughter Destiny Rae Tom, during hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Smithers, B.C. Her daughter’s body was found outside a home on the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation in 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Victim’s sister reunited with officer

Claudia Willams shared a tearful reunion with Garry Kerr, the former RCMP investigator on the homicide case of her sister, Alberta Williams.

The pair hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years, but Williams asked Kerr to sit with her as she delivered her testimony.

‘I search for answers’

The next day, Williams spoke about how the death of her sister in Prince Rupert in 1989 affected her own life.

“I search for answers, think of her each and every day. I know she would do the same for me,” she told the commission. Kerr spoke about the need for police to earn trust with the families of the missing and murdered.

Alberta Williams promo image

Alberta Williams’s body was found in Prince Rupert, B.C. in 1989. The homicide has never been solved. (CBC)

Praise from commissioner

When Marlene Jack arrived in Smithers, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to speak about her missing sister.

By Wednesday, she had shared that story, as well as her own, which included her experience at residential school and rape in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, earning praise from commissioner Michele Audette.

Transit still poor

On Day 2 of the inquiry, high school students from the Kitsumkalum First Nation performed a song they had written about the Highway of Tears and gave their own testimony about how growing up near the notorious road affected them.

Grade 12 student Melynee McDames expressed frustration that affordable transit is still not available along much of the highway, even after losing two of her own family members on the road.

‘Advocates want change’

Wet’suwet’en chiefs promised the commissioners they would watch to make sure action is taken as a result of the testimony they heard while in Smithers.

From safe transportation to better supports for youth, here’s what some advocates want to change:

Ongoing support

Long after the commission is over, many families will need support because their testimony opened old wounds.

The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre in Smithers plans to provide that support.

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard.

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