The Current

'Not just a statistic, they are people': Families of MMIW search for justice

Ramona Wilson was 16-years-old when she disappeared in 1994. Her murder remains unsolved. As a public inquiry looks into murdered, missing Indigenous women, families continue to search for answers about MMIW on the Highway of Tears and hope for justice.
Matilda Wilson holds up a picture of her youngest child, Ramona, who disappeared in 1994. She wants justice for her daughter's unsolved murder. (CBC)

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​On June 11, 1194, Matilda Wilson said goodbye to her 16-year-old daughter Ramona as she left her home in Smithers, B.C., to meet her friends.

It was the last time Matilda would see her youngest child.

"It just felt like I couldn't go on anymore because that was the baby of our family," says Matilda.

Ramona's body wasn't found until ten months later. Her murder remains unsolved.

"Even now I lose my breath thinking of the mothers — that there is no trace of their daughters," says Matilda Wilson in The Current's virtual reality documentary that takes you into Matilda's home and along the notorious highway where Ramona's mother shares her story of personal loss and search for answers.

Public forum audience member watches The Current's virtual reality documentary, The Highway of Tears. (CBC)

Ramona Wilson's case is just one of the murders and disappearances linked to what has become known as The Highway of Tears, the remote stretch of Highway 16 running between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

Members of her family now advocate for families who have lost a loved one.

"They are not just a statistic. They are people," says Matilda Wilson.

Ramona's sister, Brenda Wilson, says her younger sibling had so much going for her — school, playing on a baseball team and being a peer counsellor.

"And most of all she was our baby sister," Brenda Wilson tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti on stage during a public forum at the Prince George Civic Centre.

Ramona Wilson's case is just one of the murders and disappearances linked to what has become known as The Highway of Tears.

Brenda Wilson tells Tremonti her initial reaction to hearing about the public inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women was "tears of joy that this was actually happening."

But she does have doubts about the outcome.

"What if this doesn't happen? What if it's just something that they're saying to keep us quiet for now? I'm at a point where I'm skeptical about the whole thing."

Social worker and counsellor Diane Nakamura tells Tremonti she's devastated these cases are unsolved.

"There are times that it's hard to get out of bed in the morning. And every time the phone rings, there's always that hope that maybe somebody's calling to tell them they found their daughter or have some news."

Nakamura has worked in northern B.C. for almost 30 years.

"Year after year, there's no answers and no news and nothing."

Matilda Wilson continues to hope for justice and says she stands for the loved ones still missing and the ones that are unsolved murders.

"We'll always be here. There is no way we will disappear."

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

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.