Residents walk more than 3,000 km to honour MMIWG

Red dress hanging
Red dresses hang on tree branches to commemorate Red Dress Day/Ayesha Ghaffar

Red dresses were hanging from trees and tents were set up at the beginning of Maple Ridge Secondary School’s race track to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

A grade 10 student, Nye Holmes is one of three students who worked on the Say Her Name, Walk Her Walk project. She is from Cree First Nation and was tallying the number of laps completed.

Read: Residents to Walk Her Walk in Remembrance of Indigenous Women

The track is 400 metres and the distance they wanted to cover was 725 kilometres.

student writing
A student from grade 10, Nye Holmes tallied the laps to km at the walk/Ayesha Ghaffar

The overwhelming support from community members and students helped them reach the goal by 10:55 a.m.

To celebrate, Holmes along with her peers who worked on the project, Eden Owens and Peyton Foster, and teachers drummed as grade 4 to 5 children from Golden Ears School watched.

Grade 10 student, Eden Owens (L) and staff members sing the Women’s Warrior Song/Ayesha Ghaffar

They sang the Women’s Warrior Song.

“This song was passed on to generations from our elders and it signifies that women are the strength and the force,” explained Owens to the children listening.

Further explaining the song, Holmes added that women are the backbone of our communities and we are fighting for these women because they can no longer do so.

The song was written by Martina Pierre from the Líl̓wat Nation of B.C. She wrote the song to honour MMIWG.

Since then, it has been sung at Indigenous memorials and marches across Canada.

Setting a bigger goal

People walking on track inside school
Despite the rain, residents including parents and children from other schools came to walk for MMIWG/Ayesha Ghaffar

Even though the initial goal was achieved, the plan was to continue walking as much as possible till 5 p.m., said Karen Aitken, coordinator of the Indigenous Circle for Youth and Allies.

As the tally continued, moccasin stickers were put up on a map that shows the infamous Highway of Tears, the distance between Prince George and Prince Rupert where many Indigenous women and girls have reportedly gone missing over the years.

By the end of the day, they tallied 3,098 km, four times the distance of Highway of Tears.

map shows distance walked
Moccasin stickers represented the distance travelled along the Highway of Tears/Ayesha Ghaffar

“This generation of people is open to learning truths and honouring these truths as they move forward with intentions to do better. These truths and then intentions are monumental for all Indigenous communities – First Nations, Metis and Inuit,” said Aitken.

Honouring Seven Women

None Of Us Are Equal Until All Of Us Are Equal, is painted on the wall of the school as you enter the building.

On the first floor, outside the library, there are posters of seven Indigenous women who were murdered or died in mysterious circumstances.

Each poster begins with the life story of these young women.

poster on library window

Tatyanna Harrison was 20 when she went missing and her body was discovered on May 2, 2022. Even though she was found with only a shirt on, her death was considered “non-suspicious” by the RCMP.

poster on library window

Kwemcxenalqs Manuel Gottfriedson was gifted her name by her grandmother Laura. It means “Rainbow Dress Woman” and according to those close to her, she embodied the meaning of her name. She was a bright person “like the rainbow after rain.” She was the first to hold a sqilx’w skwist (name) without English in it since the residential schools. She was found dead on July 30, 2022, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The cause of her death has not been determined.

poster on library window

Chelsea Poorman was a kind person, bringing hot coffee to those living on the streets during winter. She dreamed of going to film school, becoming a makeup artist, musician and fashion designer. Her body was found in April 2022 although her mother reported Poorman’s disappearance in September 2020.

poster on library window

Ashley Machiskinic was a beautiful and quiet young woman who fell from the fifth floor of the Regent Hotel in September 2010. Although a former police officer believed she was ‘pushed from the window,’ her death was deemed not suspicious.

poster on library window

Ramona (Mona) Wilson was the baby of her family and a dreamer who believed in unicorns. She lived on a Langley farm with her foster family where she spent hours playing with chicks and rabbits. She was one of the last victims of Robert Pickton, a serial killer who claimed to have murdered 49 women, half of them were Indigenous women.

poster on library window

Ramona Wilson was the joy of her family and would jump into her mother’s bed after having a nightmare. They would often end up spending the night talking to each other. Trying to catch a ride to her graduation party, she was last seen in Smithers, BC in 1994. Her body was discovered in April 1995. She is one of the murdered women along the Highway of Tears.

For Owens, what happened with Wilson felt too real and relatable.

“I chose to research on her because she was so young, just like me and I am also graduating soon and will attend my school party.”

poster on library window

Noelle O’Soup was a bubbly person who always looked out for others. They were found dead on May 1, 2022, a year after they had ran away from a Coquitlam group home. She was a student of School District 42 and some MRSS students knew her.

Other schools also honoured the day including Thomas Haney by walking 204 km and Garibaldi Secondary by walking 588.4 km.

“It was extremely challenging to find information about them. I had to do a lot of research and find quotes from the family because they are the ones who knew them,” said Holmes.

Although she became part of the project in January 2023, Foster said she hopes she can continue to support her friends and, as an ally, participate more in the coming years.

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