The Current

'Culture is so much a part of healing': MMIW public forum audience share stories

As part of The Current's public forum in Vancouver, the audience weighs in with their stories involving murdered and missing Indigenous women — including the roots of violence against Indigenous women and the process of healing and closure.
(Wendy D Photo)

The Current's MMIW public forum in Vancouver + web chat

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In 1996, Lorelei Williams' cousin Tanya Holyk and aunt Belinda Williams went missing.

Tanya's DNA was later found on Robert Pickton's farm. Lorelei remembers Tanya as her protector.

"Violence is a part of my whole life," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti as part of a series of public forums across the country looking at issues surrounding murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

Lorelei Williams, relative of MMIW, shows Anna Maria Tremonti the memorial rock in Vancouver's Crab Park

5 years ago
Lorelei Williams, relative of MMIW, shows Anna Maria Tremonti the memorial rock in Vancouver's Crab Park 1:20

Lorelei formed a Vancouver dance troupe in 2012 called Butterflies in Spirit to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

One of its members, Lillian Howard was at The Current's public forum which included hearing from the live audience in Vancouver.

Lillian shares her story.

Two of Lillian's aunts were murdered in 1979, just just outside Gold River on Vancouver Island.

"My aunts were murdered. They were hitchhiking home. They weren't hookers or prostitutes or drug addicts or alcoholics. They were beautiful young women in their late teens and early 20s," Lillian tells Tremonti. 

"There was no transportation at that time, bus service so they hitchhiked. They didn't make it home."

Lillian has also lost another relative — her transgender cousin was last seen on the pig farm of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton.

In an effort to curb violence against women and raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous violence, Lillian has spoke to the Vancouver police department about her experience, and participated in reconciliation programs.  
Lorelei Williams started the dance troupe Butterflies in Spirit and says, 'I had no idea how powerful dance is in healing.' (Wendy D Photo)

But it was Butterflies in Spirit that really helped her begin her own healing process.

She says the group arranged a ceremony in a public park in which they placed butterflies in a coffin, and then set them free.

"I saw these two butterflies as they were flying away," she tells Tremonti. "I said 'Christina! Helena! Bye!' That was a turning point for me because I finally let them go."

That was also around the time she started dancing, which helped her even more.

"Culture is so much a part of healing. You can express your anger through art," she explains.

"It's really difficult to do that through the media. Express your anger [in the media] and you come off like this crazy, angry Indian! So Butterflies really helped free that artistic side."

"I'm an artist at heart."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.   

This public forum was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath, Josh Bloch, Cathy Simon and Kathleen Goldhar.