Games, Tears and Heart

17 September 2022 – A long drive day, we’ve been warned: some 725 km from Prince George to Prince Rupert, smack on the Pacific Ocean. We arrived late in Prince George, we leave early, and I have only time to walk a few blocks before we take off.

The distinctive smell of a pulp-&-paper town fills the air as I admire the mural. Fresh air in the skier’s lungs, if not mine…

In 2015 Prince George hosted the Canada Games, and this building, now the downtown post office, was Canada Games House.

We roll through such different countryside from the previous few days, it takes conscious adjustment. Horse paddocks, logging trucks and great stacks of lumber…

and field after field of neatly rolled hay, drying the requisite period of time before being sealed into durable bundles.

Sidewalk-patio lunch in Smithers, our backs warmed by the sun and our bellies by perogi. (The immigrant mix in town guarantees a range of restaurants and excellent food. Four of us choose Ukrainian.) There is time for a brief bit of exploration, and I take advantage.

I am of course drawn to this powerful mural, wrapping two sides of the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre.

I have to read the signage, to make the necessary connections.

I know we are on Highway 16, a section of the Yellowhead Highway, but I do not equate it with a term that I have heard, but not situated: the Highway of Tears. In driving between Prince George and Prince Rupert, we are travelling the length of the Highway of Tears.

Here is one section of what I read on the long, street-side wall.

One can quibble about the exact range of years and the exact number of women and girls, but the acronym MMIWG tells you the large truth: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Lack of money, private vehicles or public transport all make it tempting to hitchhike. According to Carrier Sekani Family Services, between 1989 and 2006 on this stretch of highway, nine young women were found murdered or went missing, all but one of them indigenous.

I read more about this mural, part of the larger At The Heart project, funded 2020-2021 by the Federal Dept. of Women and Gender Equality. That long wall is the Resilience Wall, with its image of the healing power of the sun, the animals from each of the clans affected, and stylized butterflies, dragonflies, feathers and indigenous healing plants.

The wall facing the alley is the Lost Ones Wall.

The rings radiating around the female moon symbolize the continuing impact of the trauma for these families and communities; the red dress is dancing regalia, to honour the lives and memories of the women lost; rain drops are tears, with falling rain a reminder that tears also have the power to help heal. The grizzly family honours the clan on whose land this building stands.

We drive on.

In the final stretch, close now to Prince Rupert, we make a brief stop in a roadside park that allows glimpses of the Skeena River. Like us on its way to the Pacific Ocean, this river is home to salmon (Sockeye, Pink, Chinook, Coho and Chum), trout (Rainbow and Cutthroat), Dolly Varden char, and sculpin and stickleback and more.

It is, says the signage, the River of Mists.

My heart is still with the Highway of Tears.

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3 Comments

  1. Blane Hogue

     /  17 September 2022

    Your travel writing is so vivid I feel we are on the journey with you. Such a powerful experience to be on the Highway of Tears.
    Thanks for taking us all along with you !

    Reply
  2. I agree with the commenter above. Very vivid and powerful writing, Penny. I work with many indigenous people in NWT and the tragedies and suffering they have endured is just so immense. Thanks for taking us along on your journey of some of this country’s beauties and tragedies.

    Reply

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