New billboards have been installed along the “Highway of Tears” to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
On Tuesday, Aug. 15, four billboards were unveiled by Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) and the Highway of Tears governing body. The partnership of both organizations resulted in the creation of the billboards.
Mary Teegee, the CSFS executive director of Child and Family Services, said the governing body of Highway of Tears comprises the victims' families, and was established in 2006. She noted there was a report consisting of 33 recommendations, one of which was to erect the billboards.
These billboards are for the Indigenous girls and women who died and for them to be honoured and remembered. The route has been called Highway of Tears as more than 40 women and girls, mostly Indigenous, have gone missing and murdered since 1969.
The words on the billboards include, "We are hope. We are strength. Keep Highway 16 safe."
This message of hope and strength provides more awareness and safety along the highway.
"There will be two (billboards) at one end of the highway and two at the other end of the highway, and this is to commemorate the missing and murdered women and to really raise awareness and actually keep awareness going," said Teegee. "It's been quite a few years to get to this place, so we've had a lot of time to think about these billboards," she added.
If you are interested in reading more about the Highway of Tears, visit: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/highway-of-tears
For years, there were billboards on the highway, but the old signs are much different than the new ones. The old signs were much like warning signs that said, "Girls don't hitchhike, killers on the loose," with the images of the victims. The new billboards are not a warning sign anymore but a message of hope and resilience in Indigenous communities.
"We hope these billboards act as a visual reminder to travellers to be part of keeping Highway 16 safe for everyone," Teegee said.
Julie Daum, executive director of justice at Carrier Sekani Family Services, said,” We want to switch the message and the narrative that has been going on about this place of despair and loss and pain. We want to acknowledge that this is our home. This is a beautiful territory, and we all deserve to be safe and protected.”
Teegee added, "You must remember your past and never repeat the same mistake, so we need to always keep it at the forefront of people's minds.”
They also added that being able to change the name of Highway of Tears to Highway of Hope will be a key step forward to making this roadway full of hope.
For more information, visit: https://www.csfs.org/news/326/66/Hope-Strength-New-billboards-along-Hwy.-16-to-honour-missing-and-murdered-Indigenous-women-and-girls-MMIWG#:~:text=The%20billboards%20are%20part%20of,education%20and%20awareness%20of%20safety
Julia Archelene Magsombol, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer