The numbers are staggering.
An RCMP report found that 1,017 women who identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012. Indigenous women’s groups disagree; they document the number as more than 4,000 women.
Those findings do not include the individuals who are missing under suspicious circumstances. Estimates are Indigenous women are up to seven times more likely to be murdered that non-Indigenous women.
One of those missing women is Frances Brown. On Oct. 14, 2017 she was out picking mushrooms in a remote area near Smithers, B.C. when she never returned. Despite a multiday search she was never found.
Now, her nephew and former Huntsville resident, Matthew Jefferson, is walking across the country as part of a charity walk for the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two-spirited. Called “The Walk to Remember” Jefferson wants to help remove the barriers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in hopes of moving past the environment that has allowed this to occur.
“Systemic violence, systemic racism, systemic violence against women — that’s a taught knowledge. This plague is two-sided and it’s going to take both Indigenous and non-Indigenous to heal through this by working together,” said Jefferson.
“We have the power to change the way the world is, but it’s going to take all of us to work together. We have to put aside our differences and celebrate them instead of have them separate us.”
Jefferson stopped in Huntsville in late November. He was raised in the community, but started the walk on June 1 in Victoria, B.C.
Since then, he has been through 37 First Nation communities and met with 42 families who are missing loved ones. A handful of the names of the missing are signed on a shirt he is carrying.
The signed shirt along with the way he is travelling set up a way to spread his message to the communities he walks through.
“I can meet a lot more people by walking. It takes more time and it’s a lot more organic and intimate with communities. It takes me a while to get through a town so generally someone is going to see me and ask me what’s with the names on the back, what’s with the picture and then I can explain to them what I’m doing and why I’m doing it,” said Jefferson.
During his travels, Jefferson mostly sleeps in his tent but has been hosted by a number of First Nations communities along the way.
Along the way Jefferson has feasted together with entire communities and taken part in a sacred ceremony known as a blanket dance. He describes the whole experience as deeply spiritual and said he has never felt so much love in his life.
“It has been incredible. I’ve been learning ceremony and tradition. I’ve been brought from long houses to teepees to roundhouses, back to longhouses. I’ve been to so many different lands and tribes and people but there is no community like First Nation community. Their sense of community is second to none,” said Jefferson.
Born in Orillia and raised in Huntsville, Jefferson is Wet’suwet’en or Caribou Clan and The Killer Whale and Sun on his father’s side.
He believes not growing up on a reservation has given him a unique perspective.
“I grew up here in Huntsville, my reservation is 3,000 miles from here, so I didn’t grow up with my culture or my tradition or even my language. I grew up in Huntsville in the early ’90s and we were one of the first mixed race families here in Huntsville and that had a lot of challenges to overcome but its afforded me a very unique outlook and position and knowledge of how to deal with things,” said Jefferson.
For more information, visit Jefferson’s “The Walk to Remember” Facebook page or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He aims to finish the walk in Cape Spear Newfoundland by the end of February.