Carrier Sekani Family Services Highway of Tears coordinator Brenda Wilson stands next to photos Highway of Tears victims displayed at today's transportation symposium in Smithers. Her sister

Minister promises action after Smithers symposium on Highway of Tears

About 90 First Nations and government leaders gathered in Smithers today to discuss better public transport along Highway 16.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone has promised to turn discussions into action after First Nations and government leaders met in Smithers today to consider transportation options to improve public safety along Highway 16.

About 90 people attended the day-long symposium co-hosted by the Ministry and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

According to the Ministry, its goal was to address transportation challenges and find ways to improve services along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George.

At least 18 women have been murdered or gone missing along 700-kilometre stretch of road in northern B.C.

Advocates say better public transportation is needed to connect small communities, which have limited access to services and amenities, and to reduce the need to hitchhike between towns.

The Ministry has ruled out a shuttle bus service, which was recommended by the Highway of Tears Symposium report in 2006.

Instead, it says it is focused on “community-based” transportation solutions which are suited to individual communities along the highway.

Examples of what that might look like were presented at today’s meeting in Smithers.

Northern Health’s medical transportation bus, a community-led service in Lake Babine, and the Seniors Helping Seniors program in Fort St. James were among the models discussed.

Minister Stone, who was not at the meeting but issued a press statement this afternoon, said it was an important step and promised to act on today’s discussions.

“We’re now going to turn the discussions into action and to work on a plan that provides an effective model for transportation along the highway as quickly as possible,” said Stone.

Mary Teegee from Carrier Sekani Family Services had hoped to see a financial commitment to a better service today.

Her organization also runs the Highway of Tears initiative, which provides advocacy and support for vulnerable women and families of victims.

“We were there to ensure that the issue of the Highway of Tears and missing and murdered aboriginal women was not forgotten in this,” she said.

“The number one recommendation of course in the Highway of Tears recommendation is to have a shuttle bus and to develop a transportation system.

“I did bring that forward and I was hoping that there was going to be resources for that … that hadn’t been identified or announced today.”

Although Teegee said she had seen numerous reports and discussions on the issue, she was cautiously optimistic that this meeting was a step towards seeing improvements.

“The government says that they are committed to dealing with this issue,” she said.

“I’m not going to hold my breath, but I am hopeful.”

Today’s meeting also considered the results of an FNHA survey on First Nations travel needs along the Highway 16 corridor.

FNHA engagement and coordination manager Mark Matthew told The Interior News his organization’s main interest in partnering with the Ministry was to improve public transportation for medical reasons.

However, he said there may be opportunities for his organization to help other groups with transportation measures that improve public safety overall.

“Anything that looks solution-based beyond the medical transportation work that we’re mandated to provide, we will have to have more discussions on how involved we actually would be on that,” said Matthew.

“By us supporting the process it may sort of provide us direction to pursue other external partnerships but it won’t necessarily mean us delivering a service.”

Moricetown Band member Lorna Morris hoped any new service would help stop hitchhiking, which she said was a problem in her community.

“We have quite a few that are still on the road hitchhiking because of the rising cost of fuel and low-income, no jobs,” she said.

“It’s hard to say what can we do.

“There is a lot of options but it takes money to move a rock.”

She said communities and governments had to work together to find the solution.

 

Just Posted

First Nations also worried about northern B.C. natural gas pipeline challenge

They already have contracts lined up should project proceed

Burns Lake area wildfires contained, but still burning

Smouldering ground fires and smoke still expected in the coming weeks

Indigenous youth ski program in Northwest gets funding

Olympian Beckie Scott was in Witset and Hazelton for first time last year.

Gak 4 Cops for Cancer

The Gitwangak team raised over $10,700 for pediatric cancer research and Camp Goodtimes.

North BC Ale Trail features Smithers

After filming in Smithers in July, North BC Ale Trail is ready to sell a trip to the Bulkley Valley.

VIDEO: Rare close encounter with whale pod spotted off B.C. waters

Pod of southern resident orca whales breach within arms length of whale watchers

Misspelling B.C. toddler’s plane ticket leaves travel agent on the hook for $1100

Mom and toddler couldn’t get on flight from Iran to Vancouver

Tempering the B.C. cannabis legalization ‘gold rush’

Retail selling of marijuana offers potential business opportunities and pitfalls

B.C. cancer patient’s case exposes gaps in care for homeless people: advocates

Terry Willis says he’s praying for a clean, safe place to live to undergo the cancer treatments he needs after he was denied chemotherapy because he lives in a Victoria homeless shelter.

Trump boasts of America’s might, gets laugh at UN

President Donald Trump received an unexpected laugh at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Salvage of grounded Haida Gwaii barge to begin as emergency command post closes

The barge and lodge broke away from their moorings in high winds on Sept. 8 and ran aground.

Federal use of A.I. in visa applications could breach human rights, report says

Impacts of automated decision-making involving immigration applications and how errors and assumptions could lead to “life-and-death ramifications”

Rattie scores 3 as Oilers blank Canucks 6-0

Vancouver slips to 1-5 in exhibition play

Veterans Affairs ordered to take second look before supporting vets’ relatives

Liberal government ordered officials to adopt a more critical eye

Most Read