British Columbia

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

Community hearings for the MMIWG inquiry were held in Smithers, B.C. this week. Over three days, families and survivors shared testimony about how they have been affected by violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Three days of personal loss and possible solutions were shared in Smithers, B.C.

Testimony from families and survivors was delivered over three days to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Smithers, B.C. (Simon Charland/CBC)

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.

 

To hear audio versions of these stories, click on the CBC player labeled 'Stories from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry hearings in Smithers, B.C.' or download the file from the CBC Daybreak North podcast.

'We know our women are out there': Highway of Tears walk demands answers

 

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)

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.


Skepticism and hope as national MMIWG hearings come to B.C.'s Highway of Tears

MMIWG commissioners Michèle Audette and Marion Buller said they were ready to move forward with community hearings in Smithers after a difficult summer which saw delays and resignations from their commission.

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.


Suicide, substance abuse and grief in focus as MMIWG hearings open in B.C.

 

Wet'suwet'en First Nation Chief Vivian Tom wipes away tears while testifying about her late daughter Destiny Rae Tom during MMIWG inquiry hearings in Smithers. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

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. 


Sister of homicide victim Alberta Williams reunited with RCMP investigator ahead of MMIWG testimony

Garry Kerr hugs Claudia Williams at the Smithers Regional Airport as they see each other in person for the first time in decades. (Chantelle Bellrichard)

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. 

'My sister Alberta's murder changed my life completely,' MMIWG inquiry hears

 

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

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.


'You're making history with us': MMIWG commissioner praises woman's testimony for its bravery

Marlene Jack said while she was nervous about testifying at the MMIWG Inquiry in Smithers, she was relieved to have shared her story. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

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.


First Nations youth perform Highway of Tears song at MMIWG national inquiry

 

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.


 

'We're going to watch you': Here's what families say needs to happen as MMIWG inquiry wraps B.C. hearings

Hereditary Chief Namoks (John Ridsdale) of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation told the MMIWG commission it is their responsibility not to let their final recommendations sit on a shelf without action. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

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. 


After the inquiry: Support needed to help families retraumatized by MMIWG testimony, advocates say

A sacred fire that burned outside the MMIWG community hearings in Smithers, B.C., will be re-lit once a week until it is no longer needed to help families heal. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

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.


The next round of community hearings begins in Winnipeg on Oct. 16.

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard.

Listen to audio versions of these stories.

 

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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