Families of Highway of Tears victims hope film saves lives

The producer of a Highway of Tears documentary is screening his film in Smithers Thursday.

The sister of a 16-year-old woman murdered along Highway 16 hopes a new documentary about the Highway of Tears will help raise awareness about the dangers facing aboriginal women when it screens in Hazelton and Smithers today and tomorrow.

Brenda Wilson’s sister Ramona was last seen hitchhiking along Highway 16 in 1994. In 1995, her body was found near the Smithers Airport.

Her case is one of 18 unsolved murders and disappearances along the stretch of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, known as the Highway of Tears.

Last March, L.A.-based Canadian director Matt Smiley and producer Carly Pope premiered their documentary, Highway of Tears, at the TIFF Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto.

Through interviews with family members of victims, First Nations leaders and the RCMP, the film tackles the connection between missing Aboriginal women and issues such as generational poverty, residential schools, systemic violence and high unemployment rates in reserves.

The film has won a series of awards including Best Documentary at both the Malibu Film Festival and the Women in Film + Television Festival in Vancouver.

Now, almost a year after its premiere, the film is touring northwest British Columbia.

Wilson, who is also the Highway of Tears coordinator for Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George, said people had been asking her when the film would screen locally on almost a daily basis.

She hopes when it screens it will help remind local people to be aware of the dangers facing aboriginal women.

“A lot of these cases happened between 10 and 20 years ago and it just brings awareness about what has been going on in the north so that people can be safe, to watch what they are doing,” she said.

“Also, to bring awareness to the systemic issues that are happening in our society.

“People don’t understand why it’s happening.”

Wilson, whose family is originally from Hazelton, said she liked the film.

“It’s very real, he struck to the truth and he kept in mind the families’ privacy and was very strong on the message that needed to be put out there, what’s really going on in the north,” she said.

In addition to making more people aware of the Highway of Tears, she said it would give people in northern B.C. a glimpse of how women are vulnerable in cities as well.

“A lot of people are attracted to the cities when they don’t find the issues or the resources that they need in their home towns,” she said.

“They move to the city believing that it’s going to be, everything that they need but at the same time the systemic issues are still there.”

It also helped to ensure older cases, such as her sister’s, were not forgotten.

Director Matt Smiley previously told The Interior News he wanted to give a voice to some of the powerful women in the affected communities.

Smiley, who is originally from Montreal, was on a family trip to northern B.C. when he first heard about the disappearances along the Highway of Tears.

He said last year he hoped the film would help bolster the push for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

“I think my biggest challenge to tackle is, with regards to the national inquiry, is getting all the various different First Nations and non-First Nations and non-government groups to all agree to the right action plan and for everybody to work together.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed his opposition to an inquiry, saying the issue has already been researched.

Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said last week said the decision not to hold an inquiry made “no ethical sense”.

I hear from as many non-native people about this as I do from First Nations who just want some basic sense of justice, and the feeling is that it’s somehow because it’s native women and girls who have been murdered and missing that the government doesn’t place as much importance as if it were some other identifiable group in Canada, and that’s a shame,” said Cullen.

He added that an inquiry would help identify the root cause of the issue.

It frustrates many of us that he’s refusing to just take an attempt to get to the root causes of this; find out what’s going on in our policing, what’s going on in our social system, that is leading to so many families looking for their daughters and wives and moms.”

Highway of Tears screens at the Roi Theatre in Smithers at 7 p.m. tonight.

 

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