Warning: This story mentions violence, abuse and trauma against Indigenous women and might be triggering for some readers
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Seven women will be remembered for who they were and the lives they lived as residents from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows gather for Walk Her Walk.
The walk, organized by students from grades 8 to 12 of Maple Ridge Secondary School aims to raise awareness about the missing and murdered Indigenous women.
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Participants plan to walk 1,813 laps of the school grounds to represent the distance of the Highway of Tears.
Having worked with School District 42 (SD42) for 14 years, Sherri Britton has been at MRSS for nearly eight years as an Aboriginal support worker.
These students wanted to ensure the Indigenous women who were lost are seen and remembered and started working on a project called Say Her Name.
“They were all important women. They were family members, they were community members and we wanted to make sure that people remembered them for who they were and not how they died,” said Britton.
But this work took two years of research and learning for the students.
Previously known as the Aboriginal Leadership, Britton and her colleagues decided to rename it this year as Circle of Indigenous Youth and Allies. The move was made to include non-Indigenous students as allies.
“We wanted the women to be remembered and we wanted the women to be spoken about because what ends up happening is we only hear about the violent offenders. We hear about Robert Picton, we hear about all of these people, but we never hear the names of these women.”
In many Indigenous communities, the number seven is sacred. This is why each year, the annual walk will present a glimpse into the lives of seven Indigenous women.
One of the posters will be of an Indigenous student from Maple Ridge.
The idea behind the walk is to include the community and invite them to “walk a mile in her shoes,” added Britton.
The school ground is 400 metres and people can volunteer to walk multiple laps but the hope is that enough people will be present to show their support.
But as students don’t always learn about MMIWG in classrooms, Britton shared that education was an important piece of this project which is why 23 classrooms were invited last month by the leadership group to learn about the cause before they could participate in it.
“We didn’t wanna just do a walk without people understanding why.”
To solidify their learning, students went to different institutes including the University of British Columbia (UBC) to present what they have learned about these Indigenous women.
The colour red became symbolic to the day when Jaime Black, an artist, used hanging red dresses to depict more than 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women across North America.
“Through the installation I hope to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence.”
Between 1989 to 2006, eight young Indigenous women, who were missing, were found dead along the 725 km highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
Although no new cases have been added by the RCMP since 2006, Indigenous women across Canada continue to be subjected to sexual and physical violence.
Intergenerational trauma, discrimination, lack of educational and employment opportunities are some of the many reasons behind the high homicide rates of Indigenous women and girls, according to the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Data from the General Social Survey shows that 1 in 10 Indigenous women were subjected to a violent crime by 2019, compared to 1 in 20 of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
These crimes included sexual assault, robbery and physical assault.
The City of Pitt Meadows will also honour MMIWG on Friday from 2 p.m. onwards with a ceremony at Spirit Square.