“Aboriginal women are loved.”
Printed with a heart on bright red paper, that was one message carried by about 20 Houston residents who marched on a cold Valentine’s Day to remember missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada.
Organizer Molly Wickham says the march is held every Valentine’s Day in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Victoria, but this is the first time Houston has joined.
“I wanted to get something going in solidarity with the other marchers, on the same day, to specifically remember all the women who had gone missing in our communities on Highway 16,” said Wickham.
Since 2007, RCMP have run a joint investigation into the 18 cases of mostly aboriginal women and girls who were murdered or disappeared along Highway 16 and the adjoining Highway 5 and 97.
Among the missing is Lana Derrick, a 19 year-old Hazleton woman who had been studying forestry at Northwest Community College in Houston.
On Oct. 7, 1995, Derrick disappeared after visiting friends in Terrace for Thanksgiving. She was last seen hitch-hiking east at a Thornhill gas station.
Wickham says that along with remembering women like Derrick, the Valentine’s Day march highlights two problems that underlie the Highway of Tears cases—racism and the dangers of hitch-hiking.
Racism continues to be a problem, Wickham said.
“It’s general attitudes towards indigenous women—that native women are easy prey and there won’t be consequences,” she said, noting that the Native Women’s Association of Canada has catalogued some 520 unsolved cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women over the last 30 years.
As for hitch-hiking, Wickham said it’s clearly an issue that needs to be kept front and centre.
“When I was growing up in Burns Lake and young girls were going missing, there was no discussion about it whatsoever,” she said, adding that she herself hitchhiked in the 1990s.
Kate Langham, a coordinator at the Houston Friendship Centre, said too many young people still hitchhike out of Houston.
“I work with people on a daily basis who continue to hitchhike, thinking that ‘It won’t affect me, it won’t happen to me,’” she said. “We really need to send that message that these women did not plan for this.”
Langham said the marchers who came out Tuesday decided to meet again and work on projects like raising a Highway of Tears sign outside Houston.
“We need to keep the momentum going, and keep it in people’s minds that the danger is very real,” she said.