By: Christine McFarlane
By: Christine McFarlane
A small but enthusiastic crowd welcomed the Walk 4 Justice walkers on their stop in Toronto, Ontario during Ryerson University’s Social Equity Day on September 8, 2011 on Church and Gould Street.
The Walk4Justice is a nonprofit organization that was created by donation and volunteers since January 2008. Gladys Radek,a Gitxsan/Wesuwit First Nations woman from Morcetown, British Columbia and Bernie Williams,, a Skundaal of the Haida Gwai First Nations woman co-founded this group to raise awareness about the plight of the far too many Missing and Murdered women across Canada. Supporters consist of family members who have lost their loved ones across the nation, grassroots women and men from all walks of life. Supporters have joined Walk4Justice in Radek and Williams’s efforts to demand justice, closure, equality and accountability.
The Walk 4 Justice team is on their second annual walk across Canada to honour and raise awareness of missing or murdered aboriginal women, their next stop is Ottawa where they will go to Parliament Hill. One of their oldest walkers included 77-year-old Velma Todd,
Walk4Justice is not only political but also personal for both founders. Radek’s niece Tamara Lynn Chipman disappeared off Highway 16 out of Prince Rupert, BC, now dubbed the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia. She vanished without a trace September 21, 2005. Tamara was a young mother of one and her father’s only natural daughter. Radek relayed how the pain of her niece’s disappearance is on the family especially on Chipman’s young son, who will never know his mother.
Bernie Williams is a long time advocate and voice for the women who have been forced to live on the streets of Canada’s poorest postal code, the DTES. She has been a frontline worker in the DTES for 25 years. Her mother and two sisters were also victims of violence who were murdered in the DTES over the years.
Together, Radek and Williams have gathered information from the family members who had lost their loved ones whether it was from the Highway of Tears, the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver Island, throughout BC and eventually right across the nation. Their data surpassed what the RCMP was saying and their numbers increased as more family members came forward. They started out with Tamara, Bernie’s mom and two sisters, and today their database has taken them to over 3,000 missing or murdered women across the countryIn 2010 Radek and Williams organized another walk from Kamloops, BC, to Winnipeg, Manitoba to complete the Highway of Tears. Their message is loud and clear in that they want a National Public Inquiry into the deaths of all our women. Walk4Justice also rallies for issues from poverty, homelessness, addiction and government interference from the residential schools, the Ministry of Child and Family Services and the judicial system as a whole. They speak out for all the families, hold rallies, vigils and family gatherings for the victim’s families and continues to gather information on a daily basis.
According to Radek, “The vision of walking across Canada to raise awareness came to us after we attended the memorial walk my cousin, Florence Naziel, and her family had organized from Prince Rupert, BC to Prince George, BC. The Highway of Tears Symposium was held March 28, 29, and 30, 2006. This symposium consisted of family members, top brass Royal Canadian Mounted Police, government officials, politicians and First Nations leadership. After three days of deliberations we came up with the Highway of Tears Initiative with 33 recommendations to provide safety nets for the vulnerable women and children in the north.”
Throughout each and every journey they have gained momentum by getting support from First Nations leaderships, employee unions, politicians and thousands of family members across the nation who fully support their walks and venues by signing resolutions to implement social changes needed to address these issues are all missing and murdered women. They have elders to watch over their groups as they walk and they encourage the youth to be involved so they are aware of the issues also. They also keep in contact with the families who now have a glimmer of hope that one day something will be done to help get justice for their loved ones and to prevent their future generations from disappearing.
In addition to the flash-mob that gathered to meet the Walk4Justice walkers, there was also a brief honoring of the Walkers later on at the Native Canadian Centre drum social. I remember when I first interviewed Gladys Radek when she was nominated for CBC’s Champion for Change in 2010, and how impressed I was with her work, and her determination to fight for a cause that is often ignored or delegated to back page news in mainstream media outlets. I remember her comment “people do not think of how our missing and murdered women” affects us as family members. It is difficult”
As long as we have issues such as what Walk4Justice fights for, I am a supporter, because I am a First Nations woman myself, and I believe that all of us need to stand together and fight together, and we need more people like Radek and Williams to stand up for the issue of our missing and murdered women, so that we all get the justice that is deserved for our people.
For more information regarding Walk4Justice please visit http://fnbc.info/walk4justice