The families of missing and murdered indigenous women in northern British Columbia and an indigenous social services agency have unveiled four new billboards to honor and remember the women and girls who have died or disappeared along a road known as the Road of Tears.
The route has been called the Highway of Tears because more than 40 mostly indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been killed along the 700-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in the north. of British Columbia since 1969.
For years, billboards on Highway 16 have warned girls not to hitchhike, with the message “Murderer on the Loose.”
At a ceremony in Prince George on Tuesday morning, a prototype of the new highway billboard was unveiled as relatives of the missing and murdered women hugged and cried, handing out handkerchiefs.
The families say the new billboards emphasize the hope and resilience of indigenous families and communities rather than fear and vulnerability, and make it a responsibility for all road travelers to keep the route safe.
“We really want to change the message and the narrative that has been going on about this place of despair, loss and pain. We want to recognize that this is our home. This is beautiful territory and that we all deserve to be safe and protected.” protected,” said Julie Daum, executive director of justice for Carrier Sekani Family Services, which partnered with families to create the billboard.
Matilda Wilson says she draws strength from the message on billboards. Her daughter, Ramona Wilson, was 16 when she disappeared in Smithers in 1994 and was later found murdered. Now, 29 years later, Wilson says she hasn’t given up hope that she will find her daughter’s killer.
“Every day I think of my little baby. He wants me to stop this from happening again.”
Mary Teegee, executive director of Carrier Sekani Children and Family Services, is Ramona’s cousin.
“This is personal to me. We don’t want to be victims anymore. We’re done.”
“We wanted to make sure our young women understood … that it’s not something they did. We want to make sure they understand that we are hope and we are strength.”
The new billboards are scheduled to go up this month along the route between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Teegee says his agency has asked the Department of Transportation to consider renaming Highway 16 Highway of Hope.
His group also plans to erect carved cedar memorial posts along the route to honor the women and girls who have died.