Some folks never give up. People like Gladys Radek and Bernie Williams, who are both missing female family members that the rest of society appears to have forgotten.
That’s why, since 2008, Radek and Williams have organized annual provincial or national walks to raise awareness for Canada’s murdered or missing women.
Reached in Saskatchewan after departing from Vancouver June 21, the two First Nations women from British Columbia say they’re determined to keep trekking on to spread their message.
According to Radek, this year’s walkers are a dedicated group of 14, all family members who have had a loved one go missing, never to be seen alive again or have fallen prey to murder.
The 2011 edition of their journey will take the entire summer, running from June to late September, on a walk from Vancouver to Ottawa.
Both Radek and Williams know first hand what these families have experienced. Radek’s niece Tamara Lynn Chipman disappeared off Highway 16 (“the Highway of Tears”) near Prince Rupert, BC, in 2005. William’s mother and two sisters were all murdered under different circumstances in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES). Williams has also been a frontline worker in the DTES for 25 years. It was during this time that she met Radek, who was then looking for her niece.
“This year there are only five original walkers that are with us from the first walk. We now also have new family members on board. We have two family members of the latest murder victim in BC, Taisha Jones, walking with us. Everyone on this trip is a family member,” said Radek.
Radek and the other 13 walkers had just completed a Hugging Ceremony at the Saskatchewan Fish Lake First Nation Cultural Gathering. The group had been invited to the youth gathering to make a presentation on Walk 4 Justice, a core part of the walk’s awareness raising activities.
“We are raising awareness as usual and we are pushing for a National Missing and Murdered women’s public inquiry. We are also pushing for a national missing and murdered women’s symposium,” said Radek.
The group would also like to see something made available to those whose loved ones go missing as their pain and suffering is without end. But Radek said the federal government systematically ignores their demands.
“As you know we started out with just two grassroots people in this grassroots movement but now I think that there are more people coming forward (about their missing/murdered loved ones) and who have become aware of what is going on in this country,” said Radek.
Many family members have come forward in recent years through groups like Walk 4 Justice and the now defunct Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit Initiative. The outreach enabled them to gain strength, support and knowledge from other mourners, helping them know they are not alone in their grief.
“We want people to know that violence against women is no longer acceptable. We want to ensure that if someone goes missing in these communities, that everybody help to find them because when a woman goes missing in one family, it doesn’t just affect the family, it affects the whole community,” said Radek.
For Radek, who is also handicapped, the journey is a labour of love.
“I have an artificial leg but the pains that I may get when I do walk are nothing compared to the suffering in the hearts of those family members who have lost their loved ones and so a little bit of pain isn’t going to kill me, that’s for sure,” said Radek.
Walk 4 Justice is a non-profit group that accepts donations via the Union of BC Indian Chiefs at 500 – 342 Water Street, Vancouver, BC, re: Walk4Justice; or deposits can be made to Scotia Bank account number 00271-11, transit number 10140; or call 778-235-5251. Website: fnbc.info/walk4justice