When did the moniker Highway of Tears become white noise? The only highway that runs through Smithers is associated with the tragic fact that Indigenous women and men have been murdered, some found, some not, along this stretch of pristine wilderness. How can the community rally to heal and reclaim the highway that should be serving as a lifeline to the valley? How can a community remain idle and accept that the whole of the country knows this stretch of highway in such a horrific light?
October 14 marks the third anniversary of the disappearance of local Wet’suwet’en woman Frances Brown. Frances was last seen on a Saturday morning in 2017 where she lived in Hazelton. An extensive search was conducted based on information purportedly supplied by the last person to see her alive. Frances has never been located. Local RCMP working in conjunction with the Highway of Tears Task Unit, confirm that this is still an open case and will remain so.
Many leads were investigated shortly after Frances’s disappearance but have not led to her whereabouts. The facts of the case are as follows: Frances Brown was seen alive Oct. 14, 2017 and was never seen again. Confirmation of stories of her mushroom picking have not been corroborated. No physical evidence of Frances can be located. However, the family still strongly believes that someone holds information that could lead to the discovery of her whereabouts.
Frances is a daughter, mother, sister, dear friend and is very much loved. It is surreal to absorb the knowledge that on a Friday she went to work, cleaned her immaculate little home, chatted on the phone with loved ones and the next day was gone. She disappeared from the face of the earth, with her life frozen in time. When the search subsided, decisions had to be made. What do you do with one’s life when they vanish? Someone can box up your life and it is gone.
However, the family will not let Frances’s life just be gone. Frances deserves so much more, as do her children and Laksilyu family. In Witset, ceremony needs to be completed. Family are in a limbo of trying to heal, but simultaneously feeling like that is a betrayal. Someone knows what happened to Frances as she did not just wander away. To use the word disappeared feels inadequate when the family feels so strongly that someone knows what happened.
The real tragedy is that this is not the only family and Wet’suwet’en clan who have experienced the murder and disappearance of their loved ones. The families of Ramona Wilson, Delphine Nikal, Jessica Patrick and Frances Brown are but a few. Every person in the valley should not only say their names but learn about them. They should not only learn about them, but give of their time and skills to reclaim their valley and make systemic changes to protect Indigenous women in the community.
These are unprecedented times with an ongoing pandemic, Witset is in lockdown and the Laksilyu Clan is honouring their grieving year with the loss of their matriarch this summer. A memorial walk could not be arranged in light of COVID-19. None of that can deter a family searching for answers. Through local media, the family is on a quest to keep a spotlight on Frances Brown.
The family is urging anyone who has information to call Smithers RCMP at 250-847-3233. No detail is too small and the reward of $5,000 is still in effect. A family liaison has been established as another avenue to provide information and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do not let the moniker of Highway of Tears become white noise. Gather around kitchen tables and discuss our loved ones. Let their names be said out loud in the community. Urge those you know connected to make that phone call to police or the family liaison. Take back your community and stand up to say ‘no more.’
Your efforts may be just the information needed to locate Frances Brown.