About a dozen Tla-o-qui-aht women and their supporters braved a fierce winter rain and wind storm to walk more than 20 km of the Tofino Highway in an attempt to bring attention to two missing women’s cases from their tribe, as well as the missing or murdered women’s cases across Canada.
The Valentine’s Day walk was led by Carol Martin, aunt of Lisa Marie Young, who went missing from Nanaimo June 30, 2002.
Walkers battled with the wind, struggling to carry their banner and to stay safe on the busy highway. Several support cars provided safety and refreshments to the walkers the entire way.
Soaked to the skin, the walkers arrived at Tyhistanis nearly five hours after they left the junction. They boarded vehicles and set out for the Long Beach Golf Course just a short distance away where a luncheon was served.
Moses Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht elder and grandfather of Lisa Young, welcomed the walkers and everyone who came to support the cause.
“Thank you from TFN Ha’wiih,” he said, as he stood with some of the hereditary chiefs.
He acknowledged Anita Charleson Touchie as a representative of Ucluelet First Nation.
“Thank you for opening your home and allowing us to start our walk there,” he told her.
Turning his attention to the marchers, Martin said, “to the ladies, on behalf of the ha’wiih, we are proud of you, how you pull together and show we don’t forget.”
“It’s been hard (living without his granddaughter, Lisa) since 2002,” he continued. He pointed out that many people in that room were there in Nanaimo helping the family search for Lisa.
“I still pray that we find her whenever I drive toward Nanaimo, but then again, it goes the other way,” he said, alluding to the fact that if her remains are found the family will be forced to accept that she is gone.
Grandmother Cecelia Arnet said Lisa will always have a big piece of her heart. It’s been hard but these walks give me strength and hope, said Arnet.
“We walk to make awareness that these people are still alive to us,” said a Tla-o-qui-aht man. Our ladies stand up and say enough is enough, he added.
“Some are murdered, some are missing and it seems there’s never really anything done about it,” said another Tla-o-qui-aht member. They remembered a young Tla-o-qui-aht teen, Iris Frank, whose remains were found in the Somass River in 1980, weeks after she went missing. That was never solved.
Members of the Charlie family also took a lead in the march. They remember their missing relative Edith Margaret Claver who went missing in 2009. She was last seen near a church. Some of her belongings, including her wallet, were later found stacked neatly near a dumpster on the church property.
March organizers Nora Martin, Carol Martin, Marie Frank-Atleo, and Naomi Seitcher were thanked for their efforts on Tla-o-qui-aht’s second march in honor of missing women. They thanked Melody Charlie of Ahousaht and Yucluthaht for walking with the Tla-o-qui-aht women.
Anita Charleson-Touchie said her spirit was lifted. She told the women of Tla-o-qui-aht that she admired their strength and courage and the power they have.
“You did this on your own and I’m proud of you,” she told them.
Carol Martin said the purpose of the walk is to show love and honor to their missing loved ones and to show that the family and community still have hope.
“It is to bring awareness to the murdered and missing women across Canada and I wanted to do it in our territory because two of our women are still missing,” she said.
Fighting back tears she added, “It felt like [Lisa] was with us, especially when it got hard to walk toward the end and it was like she was there to push us onward.”