Gladys Radek has been walking epic distances ever since her niece disappeared on Highway 16 east of Prince Rupert.
Sept. 21 marks the 12 year anniversary of when Tamara Lynn Chipman went missing, last seen hitchhiking on the highway across from the industrial park entrance. At 8 a.m., from the same location, Radek and more than 20 other families and friends joined her in a walk that will end in Smithers for the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“This walk is for the family. For my family, for Tamara and for the missing and murdered women across Canada. I’ve discovered there’s thousands of other Tamaras out there,” Radek said.
Highway 16, from Prince Rupert to Prince George, is known as the Highway of Tears for more than 19 women, and men, who have been murdered or gone missing over the years. Tamara was 22 years old and a mother to her two-year-old son when she disappeared.
She won’t be walking the 150 kilometre distance alone. Family members from the northern area will be joining her, as well as elders and activists coming from Vancouver and some of the original walkers who have been with her since the beginning.
Tamara’s father, Tom and her now teenage son, also participated in part of the walk. The night before their departure, Tom, family and friends placed a “memory stone” on the side of the hill next to where Tamara was last seen.
“It’s pretty emotional. It’s been 12 years. Every time we do one of these walks it brings back memories again of course. It’s kind of hard to deal with in a way but it does make you feel a little bit better seeing all the people and all the support that we’re getting from family and friends and a lot of people came as far as Vancouver,” Tom said, who will be at the inquiry in Smithers.
In 2006, Radek’s cousin organized a walk from Prince Rupert to Prince George, which set the template for her walks across the country. She has co-organized walks through the organizations Walk4Justice and Tears4Justice, including a national trek from Vancouver to Ottawa, Vancouver to Prince Rupert, Kamloops to Winnipeg and Nova Scotia to Prince Rupert in 2013.
“It brings a little bit of healing and it brings other family members together and helps us to walk and feel the spirits of the women. It gives us hope and it makes our family realize we are truly not alone,” Radek said.
Arnie Sankey is one of the volunteers from Prince Rupert who has been supporting Radek’s efforts in previous walks, and this year’s walk. He helped coordinate a send off feast Wednesday night at the Nisga’a Hall.
“Tamara went missing 12 years ago, which happens to be my birthday. I drive by to and from there every day — the last place she was seen, across industrial park. It hit home so I started volunteering then,” Sankey said.
Before the group started walking down the highway, they sang happy birthday to Sankey, thanking him for all his volunteer efforts.
Volunteers in vehicles will support the walkers, who expected to reach their final destination in Smithers in time for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls community hearings on Sept. 26-28.