There were many speakers and many words said at the first ever Jessica Patrick Memorial March held Sunday.
But despite all the different communities that came together and the diverse number of individuals who spoke about the life of Patrick, who also used the last name Balczer, there was one common denominator:
This has to stop.
The march, which commemorated the one-year anniversary of the 18-year-old’s unsolved death, began with friends, family and supporters gathering at Bovill Square shortly after noon.
Following a number of drum performances, the group marched down Main Street up to the Town’s municipal cemetery, where they gathered around Patrick’s grave.
It was a somber occasion, with many placing flowers on the grave or taking the time to say a few words.
The memorial then continued at the Dze L K’ant Cultural Centre, where friends and family of Patrick spoke about the many individuals the member of the Lake Babine Nation touched throughout her life.
Speaking to a large crowd, Patrick’s cousin Jacquie Bowes said the anniversary was a significant one within their culture.
“This is a releasement for Jessica,” Bowes said.
“I was told by our matriarchs and our hereditary chiefs that their spirit is with us for the first year and after that year it is time for us to let go and let her go off to the spirit world.”
Bowes said the past year has been extremely hard for the family, characterizing it as like being on permanent “auto-pilot mode.”
She said the days following Patrick’s disappearance were among the hardest.
“We had mixed emotions, we didn’t want to find her because we didn’t know what we were going to find — but then we also wanted to find her for closure.”
Even when they did get that closure, Bowes said it came at a terrible price.
“We were traumatized in such a bad way.”
Bowes also acknowledged the broader, systemic issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), noting Patrick’s case is like so many others along the stretch of Hwy 16 colloquially referred to as the “Highway of Tears.”
Speaking directly to any families who are going through similar situations, she said it’s important to keep your heart open to healing.
“You need to let your heart go soft, let it stay soft, so your ancestors can speak to you.”
Bowes also discussed the importance of Indigenous individuals — regardless of what community they come from — looking out for each other, noting a general cynicism toward relying on law enforcement, especially considering the disproportionate number of missing persons cases involving Indigenous individuals.
“We can’t rely on the RCMP, we need to rely on each other; we need our young men to start stepping up and protecting their elders and their women and their children.
“This is where the movement is going to start.”
Patrick was last seen leaving Mountain View Motel in Smithers in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2018.
Her body was not found until Sept. 15, 2018 just off Hudson Bay Mountain Road.
The case remains unsolved.
Both the RCMP and friends and family of Patrick have encouraged anyone that has information surrounding Patrick’s disappearance or death, to contact the Smithers RCMP at 250-847-3233.