Depending on your perspective, Prince Rupert is either the start or the end of the Highway of Tears (Highway 16,) and an activist and auntie of a woman who went missing along the highway plans to walk from Prince Rupert to Smithers in advance of the community hearing to be held there the week of September 25.
Gladys Radek, who’s niece Tamara Chipman went missing from Prince Rupert in 2005 and hasn’t been found, announced the walk this week, but it’s not the first walk she’s organized.
“I’ve organized and helped organize several walks, including the walk from Prince Rupert to to Prince George to attend the [Highway of Tears] symposium in March 2006,” she said. Radek added that she’s also organized national walks from Vancouver to Ottawa twice, Vancouver to Prince Rupert and Kamloops to Winnipeg and the last walk she organized was the Tears for Justice Walk which stretched from Membertou Nova Scotia to Prince Rupert in 2013.
“This one is a mini walk,” she said with a laugh.
The purpose of the walks was to not only raise awareness but also to stand in unity with family members who were demanding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“We’ll have family members of missing and murdered women walking with us,” she said. “At this point we already have three pilot cars that will assist the walkers,” adding that the vehicles will have necessary provisions like food, water and a first aid kit.
“It’s all done by volunteers,” she said.
Early advocate for National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Radek’s first trek from Vancouver to Ottawa, under the banner of Walk4Justice, was to demand a national inquiry.
“Had we not walked, the attention would not be on this issue now,” she said, “Our walk was for the families who felt an inquiry would help the cases, particularly along the Highway of Tears.”
A member of the National Family Advisory Circle, who recently released a statement asking families and survivors for patience in light of recent resignations, Radek spoke of the difficulties staff and commissioners face.
“People are getting upset because so many people are quitting,” she said, “I’m telling the people concerned that the task is very difficult for the staff. They’re hearing these sordid stories of our history for the first time.”
“It’s emotional and spiritually breaking to hear the stories and feel powerless to do nothing about it. They’re human beings.”
Radek, who will travel to Toronto to participate in meetings with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls, called for unity, in response to criticisms by groups like the Assembly of First Nations, Native Women’s Association and B.C. Native Women’s Association about the current state of the inquiry.
“I think that there’s a really good chance for [the inquiry] to continue on with improvements,” she said, “Organizations like the Native Women’s Association and the Assembly of First Nations have all been on board for this inquiry because they’ve supported all our walks. Where are they now that we’re having the inquiry? Help make the meetings happen between the inquiry and families.”
“They have to give the inquiry a fair shake and help them.”
On July 27, the AFN voted down a resolution calling for the resignations of the remaining commissioners involved in the inquiry, instead supported a motion calling on AFN leadership to demand changes at the inquiry including making the process more transparent and less “legalistic,” and calling on the federal government to provide more funding, resources and time for the commission to better carry out its mandate.
Radek said she will be starting a Facebook page soon to recruit further walkers, but in the meantime, she invites people to find her by name and add her on the social media site.
Further details are still waiting to be finalized.