Angela Steritt's memoir Unbroken is a story of strength and courage against all odds — read an excerpt now
Unbroken is on the shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
In her memoir Unbroken, Angela Sterritt shares her story from navigating life on the streets to becoming an award-winning journalist. As a teenager, she wrote in her notebook to survive. Now, she reports on cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, showing how colonialism and racism create a society where Indigenous people are devalued. Unbroken is a story about courage and strength against all odds.
Angela Sterritt is a journalist, writer and artist. She has previously worked as a host a reporter with CBC Vancouver. Sterritt is a member of the Gitxsan Nation and lives on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh territories in Vancouver.
Unbroken is shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The $75,000 prize is awarded annually to the best in Canadian nonfiction. It is the largest prize for nonfiction in Canada. The winner will be announced on Nov. 21, 2023.
You can read an excerpt of Unbroken below.
Despite my ancestors' best efforts to preserve their land, our grease trails were covered with and intersected by railways, logging roads, bridges, mills, bars, and roadways, and the ancient trade route was eventually destroyed. My ancestors watched the lush forests slowly become well-trafficked roads.
I've travelled the highways from Vancouver to Prince George and then through my home territory many times since I was a baby, but more often as an adult. In 2016, while conducting research for this book and going to visit my cousin, then the mayor of Hazelton, I drove westward from Prince George and then north along Highway 16. Haunting plywood billboards plastered with pictures of the faces of young missing women jumped out from the side of the highway, every 10 to 20 kilometres. Posters stuck to gas station receptacles and on store windows made it hard to forget the reality that dozens of women and girls have gone missing from or been murdered here since the 1970s. And all that made me think not only of my family's history of being removed from this land, but also about my own vulnerability — memories of travelling alone, hitchhiking along dark highways, and being among those who could easily be ripped away.
And all that made me think not only of my family's history of being removed from this land, but also about my own vulnerability — memories of travelling alone, hitchhiking along dark highways, and being among those who could easily be ripped away.
While those haunting images terrified me, I took comfort in the undeniable beauty and power of the land and water that the highway cuts through. After I left Hazelton and continued west, then south, the salt-licked air swelled from the Pacific as I neared the once booming fishing town of Prince Rupert. Hand- some yellow cedars edged the highway and sun-soaked mountain ranges gazed from the horizon. The smell of rich soils and dripping conifers were reminders of the rainforest that once stood where the highway now rests. Travelling up and down Highway 16, every so often you see a wall of fog rising from tributaries like smoke and unfolding like clouded wings pushing apart the rocky cliffs and imperious mountains. From the crusty crags in Rupert, I saw tiny archipelagos sprawl across the ocean, sopped up by mighty waves. Fishers pulled black cod, red snapper, crab, and salmon from nets and traps.
And the landscape reminded me of our Gitxsan territory, just as rich and beautiful as this. Grandpa Walter and his brother, my great-uncle Neil Sr., kept up their health in their younger days by running up and down the mountains on traplines in Xsan watersheds. When Neil Sr. was around 92 years old and I was in my early 20s, I visited him at his house that overlooks the rushing Xsan, and he shared stories with me about what life was like before these lands were chopped up, spit out, and disfigured by men who dreamed of cashing in on the rivers, trees, earth, and people.
My great-grandmother Luu Uuxs, who also went by her English name, Kate Morrison, was born in 1882 into a world that was being transformed by settler colonialism and the resource extraction that Europeans wreaked. In my uncle Neil Jr.'s book Mapping My Way Home, he describes Luu Uuxs's strength. Carrying my great-uncle Neil Sr., a baby at the time, on her back along with supplies, she transported my grandpa (her eldest child) in a toboggan pulled by five dogs. She would mind family camps, as well as a garden and the children, while the men hunted for moose, rabbit, and grouse. But she could also fell and peel an 8-metre cedar tree between lunch and supper, and later man- aged their family's rental cabins. But as colonization dug its patriarchal claws into Indigenous communities, Indigenous women and children were the first to be stripped of their power.
That loss of self-determination and land is a common thread that links many of the women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered. Many were ripped from their land, families, and communities during colonization — through residential school, the Sixties Scoop, the child-welfare system, or gender discrimination legislated in the Indian Act. And those who live along the Highway of Tears face added vulnerability due to the remoteness of their communities, which comes with a lack of services, limited access to education, and unreliable or unaffordable transportation.
These vulnerabilities have made it easier for at least three serial killers to prey on women in these lands over the last few decades. It's hard to reckon with, emotionally and intellectually, and it's even more difficult to untangle.
It's hard to reckon with, emotionally and intellectually, and it's even more difficult to untangle.
Trying to find answers — about what happened to the women, who killed them, and why so little has been done about it — comes from a place of discomfort for me because in many ways, it's personal.
Adapted with permission of the publisher from the book Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls, written by Angela Sterritt and published by Greystone Books in May, 2023. Available wherever books are sold.