Trigger warning: This article presents shocking and disturbing content.
October 1969, the first victim: Gloria Levina Moody, a member of the Bella Coola Indian Reserve of the Nuxalk Nation. Beaten and assaulted before she was left bleeding to death, her murderer showed no mercy. Was she targeted because she corresponded to the disgusting ideals of a deranged man, or was she simply killed because of her ethnicity?
The Highway of Tears
It is a segment of Highway 16 situated between the towns of Prince Rupert and Prince George in British Columbia. The “Highway of Tears” was named as such by the locals after the series of murders and disappearances of many girls and women, a majority of which were indigenous. It is described as an isolated and dark road. Following the death of Gloria Levina Moody in 1969, many more women and girls went missing until the last reported victim in 2006. The villages surrounding this part of British Columbia were terrorized for more than four decades by this potential serial killer, and almost 20 years later, many cases remain unsolved.
This Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigation has the highest rate of unsolved murders of aboriginal women and girls in Canada; it is also suspected to be compromised by many inequities caused by racism. Yet, even with those facts, the Highway of Tears remains unknown to the majority of the Canadian population.
Sadly, various similarities exist between the known cases of the missing and murdered indigenous women. The few first victims did not get much attention from the population or the media, and the majority of police officers were unwilling to collaborate to solve the cases. It seems that they forgot their duty to protect, not to discriminate. It is unfair to assume that one’s life is worthier than another’s because of one’s ethnicity or criminal record.
Most of these victims were minors. The sad irony of this situation is that when the RCMP started an investigation after the 22nd reported victim, they found bodies, and many of them were not even registered as missing. This goes to demonstrate how indigenous people are aware of how poorly they would be treated by the police if they ask for help.
In 2002, a white twenty-five-year-old woman went missing in the same circumstances as the victims before her. She was in the region to plant trees. Her case was swiftly taken in charge by the police and exposed nationally by the televised news. Meanwhile, the other victims of murdered and missing indigenous women barely had any flyers put up in their hometown.
While this investigation has been poorly handled by the RCMP, there are many other problems at stake. For example, the victims were all seen for the last time hitchhiking on the highway.
In that particular region, hitchhiking was a common way to travel due to the lack of public transportation. Regardless of the dangers, it is difficult to judge exactly the risks of such an action when there is no record of any issues. There was also a serious problem of sexual exploitation, which is a consequence of poverty. Unfortunately, it was an easy way to gain money rapidly. This can also explain why some of the victims were on the highway at night. It was their livelihood. In a developed country such as Canada, sixteen-year-old girls should not have to sell their bodies for a living.
To help find a solution, many communities have requested bigger deployment of police officers, more public transportation, phones, and school tours to raise awareness. In 2005, the government funded the project E-Pana whose goal was to properly investigate the cases of missing and murdered indigenous women that have been occurring since 1969. Right when the investigation started, the police officers found unfinished reports and lots of missing information; multiple crucial pieces of evidence had vanished, as well. Back then, the RCMP was indeed being very secretive regarding their investigations and left a system full of flaws for officers today trying to solve the cases. Fortunately today, in 2021, the E-Pana project is still in charge of this investigation and much progress is being made.
Even though these crimes against indigenous women were last committed 15 years ago, there are still murders against indigenous people happening today because of their ethnicity. One would think that racism should be long gone by now, but here we are. It is the 21st century, an era where people get together against those injustices and create movements such as “Black Lives Matter.” So, let’s continue to fight against racism with the power of our voices until global fairness is achieved!
Disclaimer: I respect the police forces and I acknowledge that those events happened in a much different time period. Thereby, I am not suggesting that the system of justice is not doing what it should do nor that it is perfect. I believe that individuals who have inappropriately exploited their power should not represent the whole system. Alas, I pray that justice will be brought to the families of the victims someday.
“Highway of Tears: The victims and the missing.” Provided by the RCMP. CBS News, https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/highway-of-tears-the-victims-and-the-missing/2/
Michalko, Ray. “Searches: Highway of Tears.” Youtube, produced and uploaded by VICE, 15 October 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz63Vppw3gE
“Missing and Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls.” CBC News, https://www.cbc.ca/missingandmurdered/mmiw/profiles/gloria-levina-moody
Missing-murdered-women-photos.jpg (358×448). (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2021, https://warriorpublications.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/missing-murdered-women-photos.jpg?w=584
“RCMP still looking into the Nicole Hoar disappearance.” BC LOCAL NEWS, 15 July 2020, https://www.bclocalnews.com/news/rcmp-still-looking-into-the-nicole-hoar-disappearance/
Sabo, Don. “Highway of Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2016, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/highway-of-tears
Victoria Charlton. “HIGHWAY OF TEARS (L’AUTOROUTE DES LARMES) : UN TUEUR EN SÉRIE EN LIBERTÉ?” Youtube, 26 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVH1yQQxmLk.