As one woman in the crowd said after the Highway of Tears documentary screened in Smithers last Thursday, this was an audience like no other.
Parents and siblings of the victims featured in the film, which is about the murders and disappearances of women along Highway 16, were among those watching.
Popcorn machines glowed as friends and relatives of victims embraced in the foyer before the one-time screening.
The theatre was almost full when the lights dimmed and the faces of victims, including those of
local women, appeared on the big screen.
The film began by outlining the history of Indian residential schools and negative stereotyping of First Nations women.
This undervaluing of women, and the long-term impacts of residential schools, was a theme that remained throughout the film.
Through interviews with family members and human rights advocates, the movie raised questions about systemic racism and government inaction.
After the screening, director Matt Smiley joined victims’ family members Doug and Megan Leslie,
Matilda Wilson and Lisa Hotte on stage to answer questions.
Smiley said he had made the film because he wanted to humanize the issue and reiterated his call for
a national inquiry, an idea that has been rejected by the federal government.
Doug Leslie, whose daughter Loren was murdered in 2010, told the audience they could help by
“Be heard, be seen and be aware of the things that are happening,” he said.
“Talk to people, talk to your government officials and be heard.”
One man in the audience said men must take more responsibility for violence against women. “Whether it’s pushing or calling people down or murdering people, we need to take responsibility
for men’s violence and reclaim masculinity as we see it because we were once a healthy population of
people,” he said.
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach spoke of the need to confront the issue.
“Having the Highway of Tears at the forefront is uncomfortable for many people,” he said.
“How do we reconcile here in the North that we are a region with such caring, friendly, dynamic
communities and we are also a place that has this tragic history where this tragedy for many
years was met with indifference by people in positions of power?”
Matilda Wilson, whose daughter Ramona was murdered near Smithers in 1994, said the film would
give people hope and understanding.
“The thing is, we were trying to get the government, provincial and federal, to get their attention on this
documentary here but to no avail,” said Wilson.
“It hasn’t happened yet but I’m not going to give up hope on that.”