Warning: This report contains details that can be disturbing to readers
Residents gathered at Spirit Square in Fort St. James on International Women’s Day (March 8) to honour and remember missing and murdered women in the community.
The recent murders of Carmelita Abraham of the Takla Nation and April Mary Monk of the Tl’azt’en Nation happened within months of each other.
According to court documents, Abraham was killed in Quesnel on Dec. 28, 2021. Monk died on Feb. 8, 2022 after being assaulted the previous night according to the RCMP. Two separate men have been charged in relation to their deaths.
The Fireweed Collective Society is a non-profit in Fort St. James offering mental health education and mutual aid.
The Society’s Executive Director Talia Wyssen said they hosted the gathering to bring people together and call for change.
“Throughout the years we have lost so many women. Women like Bonnie Joseph and Mackie Basel — who vanished without a trace — and just recently the two murders of Carmelita and April,” Wyssen said.
“There are just so many more women that we have lost. We lose them at an alarming rate. I don’t know how much more grief any of us can take.”
The event was open for all to participate and to share their thoughts. Speakers were followed by drumming and a candlelight vigil.
Fireweed House Manager Rhonda Dean joined high school students, other staff and volunteers to build a painted stand of a woman in a red dress — representing the spirits of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“We’re trying to work with the younger people so that they’re aware,” Dean said. “When we were painting we asked all the students, ‘Do you know what the red dress symbolizes?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ That was good to hear.”
Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief Aileen Prince said the community needs strong voices when it comes to stopping violence against women — and men also need to get involved. Men can “stand beside the women in their families” in that way.
“We would like to see more men at these gatherings to share that load of protecting women. We need the men to teach the men and we need the men to teach the boys that it’s not acceptable,” Prince said.
“The right way to resolve problems is not through violence or through putting women down and belittling women. It’s to collectively work toward solutions to problems — without violence.”
Blaming those who find themselves in dangerous situations doesn’t help, Wyssen said, adding that systemic barriers can lead to tragic outcomes.
“My grief is turning into rage and fear. It scares me that we are not all pissed off,” she said.
“We’re all in this together. I say for myself and Fireweed that we stand here with you. We see you. We hear you. No more stolen sisters.”
Wyssen said connecting women with help can be a daunting task when supports aren’t readily available. She said there are too many roadblocks, waitlists and requirements for women to get help quickly when they urgently need it.
There’s a misconception, Wyssen said, that all a woman needs to do to get out of a dangerous or abusive situation is to ask for help.
“Our world isn’t built like that. Our systems fail. We are failing them. Every single one of us. We leave them to violent, terrifying endings that no one deserves.
“Lots of times asking for help hasn’t been enough.”
Support is available for those affected by intimate partner violence. You can access support in your community by visiting domesticshelters.org/help/bc.