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The inaugural Tears to Hope Relay sets off from Prince Rupert and Smithers, heading to Terrace

Tears to Hope Society hopes to shine a light on missing and murdered women along Highway 16
Nisga’a elder Audrey Barton leads a blessing prior to the beginning of the relay. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

The inaugural Tears to Hope Relay set off from Prince Rupert and Smithers on the morning of June 21, with the goal of raising awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“Our purpose in this race is to take the Highway of Tears and turn the page to Tears of Hope,” said organizer and runner Birgitte Bartlett, from the Kitsumkalum First Nation.

Organized by the Tears to Hope Society, participants in the run are hoping to shine a particular light on women who have been murdered or gone missing along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George.

Mary Denton holds the deerskin scroll that each runner will carry during their stretch of the relay. The scroll carries a message of hope, and will be symbolically transferred via the traditional Indigenous method of transferring messages from village to village. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

READ MORE: Team “Tears to HOPE” ran in the Vancouver Sun Run in honour of murdered and missing Indigenous women

“I don’t know how any of these people would survive without hope,” said Bartlett.

Bartlett’s daughter, Mary Denton, was the starting runner out of Prince Rupert. The relay and meaning behind it, as with many others, is deeply personal to her.

“I grew up a kid from Kalum and was involved in multiple searches for many women that have been missing on the highway before they were even deemed and considered missing by RCMP,” explained Denton.

Symbia Barnaby performs a sage smudging on Mary Denton prior to her departure. The smudging provides spiritual clearing and protection for those who receive it. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

“Our shirts say ‘She is somebody’ It’s reminding people that these families never got closure,” said Denton. “These women disappeared, but they still need to be acknowledged. It would be nice if everybody felt safe here and felt like they could take it back.”

The runners traversing Highway 16 from Prince Rupert to Terrace will meet up with their counterparts who left from Smithers on June 22, at which point they will head to the George Little Park for Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations.

Tsimshian chief Clarence Nelson conducts a welcome ceremony prior to the departure of the first runner, surrounded by Nisga'a elder Audrey Barton (left) and Indigenous rights activist Gladys Radek (right). (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

READ MORE: Walking the Highway of Tears for a woman who went missing 12 years ago from Prince Rupert

Also present at the starting ceremony was noted Indigenous rights activist Gladys Radek. Radek’s niece, Tamara Chipman, went missing at the Industrial Park outside of Prince Rupert in 2005. She has since organized several walks across the country through her groups Walk 4 Justice and Tears 4 Justice, and is assisting in the Tears to Hope Relay efforts.

Alex Kurial | Journalist
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